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European Union and Its Enlargement

English Pages, 20. 9. 2001

The recent tragic events in America suggest many things and raise many questions but there is no doubt that we have to look at world (and European) issues and problems more deeply and more sharply than in the past. We should not be satisfied with their old fashionable, comfortable, superficial and - very often - wrong and misleading interpretations.

On the other hand, I do not pretend to be able to say anything new, innovative, surprising, originally analytical to the topic of this conference. I am afraid that everything has been already said. My special perspective or hopefully comparative advantage (and disadvantage) in looking at this topic is

         - being from the candidate country,

- the unforgettable and in many respects important experience of 40 years of communism,

- almost 12 years of political life in the moment of transformation of the country from a closed society into an open one,

- background in economics which heavily constraints (or disciplines) my thinking.

With such a background I see the original formation as well as the developments of the European Community, then Union, in the second half of the 20th century as a special case of the contemporary globalization, internationalization and integration processes. European integration belongs to the prevailing trends and tendencies but it contains some very specific political and ideological aspects.

No one in this room is - I suppose - against opening-up of societies and against elimination of all kinds of barriers and obstacles to the free, unconstrained exchange of ideas, of people, of goods and services, of money over the world. Some of us, especially those who come from Central and Eastern Europe, know from their own personal experience what it means to live in closed, inward-looking, almost autarchic societies where any form of contact with the outside world was prohibited (or at least made very difficult). We do know what it means to live in the world of barriers, obstacles, borders, prohibitions and - eventually - of permissions to be allowed to do something or to go somewhere. Due to it, we have been dreaming for years and decades about being part of the European open society.

My empirical observation no. 1 is: Current European unification process is, however, not only or not predominantly about opening-up, but about introducing massive regulation and protection, about imposing uniform rules, laws and policies, about weakening standard democratic processes (which were evolutionary by developed during centuries), about increasing bureaucratization of life, etc.

I am very sensitive to both sides of this process. 12 years ago we wanted and want now to go “back to Europe”, to the freedom which we did not enjoy in the communist era but it is not the same as to rush into the European Union which is currently the most visible and the most powerful embodiment of ambitions to create something else - supposedly better - than a free society.

The debate about Europe has two main dimensions – the reality of and the plans for the evolution of the European integration process on one hand and the EU dealing with candidate countries, with its potential future members, on the other. Both topics are, of course, interconnected.

I will start with the second issue, because – especially in the recent years – membership or non-membership in EU has become a very simple differentiating factor suggesting who is and who is not a “normal, standard (or standardized), mature, decent, obedient European” country. Due to it, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have no other alternative than to make a maximum effort to become members of EU, to become “legitimised” in this special way, to gain new stage of recognition , as soon as possible - regardless their views about the currently realized model of European unification and about ideology behind it.

On the other hand, I am convinced that it is in the interest of contemporary member countries of EU to prolong today’s status quo as long as possible. I do not criticise them because it is - on their side - an expression of their rational behaviour. Member countries already have a full access to the non-member countries. They are there and have, therefore, a full possibility to realize their own comparative advantages in a relatively easy, and more or less painless way. The benefits from relations with us they get exceed considerably the costs they have to bear.

This visible discrepancy of interests and motivations is the main element of the European reality at the beginning of the 21st century. The future is not without alternatives. There are several possible scenarios because all players of the game will be searching for optimal tradeoffs. But I predict that the EU member states will not be able to keep their club closed for a long time and as a result of it the most probable consequence will be the phenomenon of an uncompleted membership which will keep the old divisions in Europe alive for a very long time.

The genuine interests of individual candidate and member countries are obscured and intentionally marginalized. It is because of another “reality” in contemporary Europe which is the almost uncontested dominance of the ideology of unification, the ideology of Europeanism, which is, however, only a very partial and superficial substitute ideology, an Ersatzideologie. Its concentration on the form, not on the substance, is a successful way how to hide its substance. It may be a rational strategy on the side of its exponents to do it, because it conceals its interventionistic and etatist characteristics. It is, however, our task to reveal and explain its real meaning.

The most respectful ambition of Europeans, the ambition which most of us would whole-heartedly support, is to expand, enhance and guarantee freedom and democracy for all Europeans. In this respect, my question is: Will the freedom and democracy in Europe be increased by Europeanism, which means

-          by minimizing the role of one, undisputable genuine and evolutionarily developed level of human organization, called “nation-state”;

-          by extending the distance between individual citizens and relevant decision-making bodies in remote Brussels or Strasbourg;

-          by harmonizing (or unifying) rules and policies instead of preserving competition of different rules and policies?

         My answer to these questions is clear and straightforward:

-          I wish my country remains a self-governing nation within the European Union;

-          I am convinced that it will be counterproductive to create an artificial European state;

-   I hope that the balance between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism will not be fundamentally shifted;

-   I believe that efficiency and strength will not come from uniformity but from experimentation, diversity and competition.

As someone who was in the communist era oppressed both as an individual and as part of a nation, I do not see the undermining of the traditional nation state as a blessing and cannot share the currently dominant ideology, which suggests that it is sufficient to be merely “a collection of peoples”. I am convinced that we need more than that. We need a shared sense of what the problems are. I do not believe it can be achieved, at the level of the whole  continent, without a nation-state.

I am frustrated that such issues have not been seriously and sufficiently debated. Silent majority of Europeans does not care or does not see the importance of these issues. The activists of Europeanisman apparent minority – claim to be the exclusive owners of truth. They dismiss all objections to their struggle for supranationalism and ever closer union as undemocratic, nationalistic and reactionary, and denounce all those who disagree with them as potential Lukasenkos or Milosevices. We have to admit that they succeeded in establishing a quasi-religious belief in seeing unification as a panacea and that the development goes in the direction where they want to have it. The intergovernmental cooperation of independent countries has been slowly but certainly converted into the system with many features of a supranational state and with many attempts aiming at centralization of power in Brussels and at elimination of European nation-states. I feel obliged to emphasize it because we used to live in a political and economic integration called COMECON, which was also characterized by the fact that decisions were made not at home but abroad, by the belief that the whole is more than the sum of its parts and by the concept that the anointed know better than the rest of us.

All of that should not lead us to forgetting the EU economic and social practices. In my understanding the existing system is, in the long run, untenable because it undermines our future, because it undermines European competitiveness in the globalized world. Europe has been in the past decades a victim of creeping bureaucratization, of increasing regulatory activism, of nonreceding protectionism, of soft and all-embracing paternalism and of increasing “planetary” ambition vis-à-vis “Le dèfi american” or the Asian challenge.

Are we aware of it? I have to express my doubts. The Europeans live in a nirvana of relative economic affluence, of long holidays and ever shortening working hours, of rather permissive, immodest, hedonistic and greedy life-styles. Can we afford it? Or do we live on shaky foundations and on a borrowed time?

The hard data do not give us much comfort:

- Europe is undeniably loosing its position in global competition;

- European economic growth is relatively slow;

- European welfare state  (die soziale Marktwirtschaft) has not been ­– in spite of the collapse of communism - visibly curtailed. It has been even extended;

- the Euro is weak and is weak because Europe is weak;

- enlargement of the rigid, heavy and costly Union to the East will be expensive - surprisingly (or perhaps paradoxically) - for all involved, for old members as well as for potential newcomers.

Something must be done. Europe desperately needs a radical dose of liberalism and deetatism. We should initiate new rounds of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. I am afraid we are not moving in this direction. Deepening of EU has been connected with increasing regulation and with growing protection (interpreted and advocated as policy harmonization, as improving of competition, as a fight against dumping, etc.), whereas what we need is more of economic freedom.

Widening of EU should be, therefore, used as an excuse for the abolishing of subsidies and anti-market interventions existing in the Union but I am afraid it will not happen. There is a danger that the enlargement of the Union will make it bigger, more bureaucratic and more expensive – to the detriment of all of us.

Many Europeans believe – quite naively – in the possibility of converting Brussels into the great liberating force which could accomplish what is otherwise politically difficult, if not impossible, at a national level. This is an illusion, repeated, however, again and again. To expect more of political neutrality, less of lobbying and rent-seeking, more of undetached altruism, less of ambitious politicians and bureaucrats, etc. at a supranational level – with greater geographical distance of politicians and bureaucrats from citizens and voters – is another modern fatal conceit. History has never experienced anything like that. On the contrary.

Our problems have their global dimension. The world of today is more globalizeted (I prefer to say integrated) but not more homogeneous than before. What it means? Is the current process of opening up, of liberalization and deregulation, accompanied by imposition of social, environmental, labor, health, safety etc. standards a suitable vehicle for more homogeneity or is it a way how to protect existing differences, privileges and huge gaps in income and wealth? I am convinced that the imposition of the now-fashionable “standards” of rich and developed countries upon developing and transition countries is a way how to keep them where they are and how to eliminate their comparative advantages.

The integration or internationalization itself will not bring universal harmony and will not result in the end of history or the end of ideology. The conflict of visions will stay with us. The question is different. Will radically accelerated unification in Europe bring more freedom or less freedom? The standard answer is a positive one but I do not share it without qualifications. Internationalization also means the enlargement of territory for which decisions are to be made. It brings about the retreat of classical parlamentarism in favour of new mechanisms of life in society and with all my sensitivity inherited from the communist era I cannot take it as a positive thing only. I am afraid that this process will not be connected with the victory of capitalism, of parliamentary democracy and of free markets. It may be connected with the increasing role of other, competing “isms”. I see around me the advocation of civil society (or of communitarism), not of parliamentary democracy, the advocation of various third ways, not of free markets, the advocation of corporativism, not of capitalism, the advocation of environmentalism and humanrightism and NGO´ism, not of human freedom. This will become a great problem of our times. The recent tragic events in America tell us that we have to look at all those issues with more attention and sharpness than in the past.

Václav Klaus, Euroinvest Conference, for Brussels, September 20, 2001


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