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EU: Report Rallies Support For Enlargement, Calls For Greater Unity In Foreign Policy

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The European Commission today released a report dealing with the implications of European Union enlargement. Prepared under the supervision of the long-serving Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, the report's main conclusion is that the benefits of enlargement far outweigh its costs. Besides being timed to help smooth the passage of accession treaties through the parliaments of EU member states, the report also serves as a springboard for a wider reform for the bloc.

Brussels, 26 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The enlargement report released in Brussels today claims to be the most definitive analysis yet of the expansion of the European Union "from a European point of view."

The central conclusion of the report -- presented by the former prime minister of the Netherlands, Wim Kok, and co-sponsored by the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi -- is that enlargement will incontestably benefit both the old and new members of the European Union.

Kok made this point in an emphatic fashion: "It's the fulfillment of a dream, to reunite our continent and make Europe whole and free, at peace with itself, and we must never forget that kind of vision. The benefits far outweigh the costs. The budgetary costs for the EU are modest. The future members have accepted most of the economic costs, and the European Union has already obtained the benefits of increased trade, investment, and growth."

The report reiterates points long advanced by the European Commission and other advocates of enlargement throughout the past few years.

It says increasing prosperity and stability in Eastern Europe -- encouraged by the prospect of EU membership -- have benefited, and will continue to benefit, EU citizens.

The increase of trade and investment between old and future members has already brought "big economic gains," comparable to the introduction of the EU's frontier-free single market in 1993.

The report rejects predictions that the lifting of employment restrictions by present EU member states would result in a massive inflow of immigrants.

It also holds out the promise of a "safer Europe" for the citizens of current member states, saying that as a result of enlargement, the EU can more effectively combat organized crime, control immigration, protect the environment, advance higher standards of nuclear safety, and improve food standards.

The Kok report also aims to capitalize on enlargement by advocating greater cooperation among member states, and the dropping of national vetoes, in the EU's internal and external policies.

In particular, Kok today spoke of the need for the EU to rebuild its common foreign policy, which has been in tatters since the inception of the Iraq crisis. "The Iraq experience has exposed the limits of the [EU's] foreign and security policy. And the failure to have an in-depth discussion and to have a European position is disappointing and frustrating for many Europeans, myself included. We must therefore reflect urgently on the need to rebuild a genuine common foreign policy with the intention of speaking with a single voice," Kok said.

At first glance, there is little to suggest in recent experience that enlargement is going to make the attainment of that objective any easier. Deep divisions among EU member states are paralleled by the new member states' almost uniform acceptance of U.S. policy on Iraq, which has elicited critical responses from the various centers of the so-called Old Europe from Paris to Brussels.

Here, the EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, came to Kok's aid. Dismissing the "letters and declarations" that have emanated from the candidate countries in the past weeks and months, Verheugen said he has ample evidence of the future members' interest in a common European foreign policy. "I can say the following today. After very intensive discussions with all the heads of state and government of the future member states, [I can say] that there exists a common view. The future member states do not want to contribute to divisions. They do not allow themselves to be instruments in splitting Europe into two, into 'good' or 'bad' Europeans, 'pro-American' or 'anti-American.' They want a clear, viable common European foreign and security policy," Verheugen said.

Verheugen went on to echo a point often made these days by Prodi, that is, that the new member states, as well as old, must, and do, understand that they cannot expect to be able to individually make their views count on the world stage.

Finally, the Kok report also emphasizes the need for a coherent EU "neighborhood policy" to spread "prosperity and good governance" beyond the bloc's borders.

Kok said the enlargement process should continue after the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and that membership prospects of the countries of the western Balkans need to be "more effectively" explained.