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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Your accession is important to us... please continue to hold

Sentiment against further enlargement continues to harden in Brussels. The Commission is going to say that the Western Balkans (Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Albania) are no closer to joining than a year ago. Turkey already got their slapping earlier in the week.

In fairness - Turkey is in a very different situation to the Balkans. The Balkans have more friends on the inside, and the EU is barely going to notice their fun-size economies joining the club.

The Turks are not stupid. They know that various EU members are negotiating only in the hope of provoking a crisis to make Turkey walk away (like when Chirac piled on the pressure on the Arminian genocide a couple of weeks ago).

Last week their FM Abdullah Gul said that, "Some countries and leaders are trying to block (Turkey) using the Cyprus issue. We disscern that there are some European leaders who wish that Turkey goes away by itself. We will not fall into this trap."

Nonetheless, new hurdles seem to be appearing all the time for potential new entrants.

According to El Pais, the European Commission has outlined plans to make future EU enlargements after Bulgaria and Romania subject to the approval of European citizens, in order to “increase the democratic legitimacy” of future enlargements.

Its wonderful that the EU has suddenly discovered a deep love of democracy so late in its life. But we know that the bottom line here really is to use popular opinion (when it suits the EU) to say "no" to Turkey. The last poll in Austria showed something like just 11% support for them joining. That looks like game over. So much for Mark Leonard's claim that "Europe will run the twenty-first century" by sucking more and more countries into its sphere of influence.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn is quoted on the Coulisses de Bruxelles blog saying that there is also no question of letting anyone in until a new EU Treaty is agreed. “We need a new agreement reforming the community institutions before any new accession. This new treaty will have to be prepared in 2007-2008 so that at the end of the French Presidency in December 2008 we can reach agreement.”

Technically there would indeed need to be one or two changes to the Treaty of Nice, because there are only voting weight numbers for Romania and Bulgaria in the Treaty of Nice - not any further potential members. And there is a provision that means that in the next Commission after Bulgaria and Romania join, the principle of "one country one Commissioner" is going to be dumped.

But the real point here is that the EU institutions, and the more integrationist member states, are going to demand a political price in the form of further deepening if - and its a big 'if' - new members are going to be allowed in.

That's completely the wrong way up. If new members are going to join we need to come up with a far far lighter and more flexible structure, not a more centralised one. Only by reducing the regulatory burden of membership compared to membership of the EU today could you make enlargement an economic success story for poor new member states - many of which have very limited administrative capacity. It is ludicrous, for example, for the Romanians to have had to spend billions on satelites in order to build a rural payments system to administer the CAP.

In a wider sense too, a flexible Europe would be the only way to reconcile three conflicting desires: it's the only way to meet the desire of some member states for more integration, while meeting the desire of other member states to roll back integration. But it’s also the only way to rescue enlargement.

Only a more flexible Europe, (particularly not insisting on free movement with Turkey) will persuade voters in the existing member states to let new members like Turkey into the EU.

A flexible Europe might put new members like Turkey on the same footing (a sort of EU 'lite') as Britain, whereas offering them some kind of second class “associate” status would - quite understandably - be rejected as insulting by the applicant countries.

Right now the idea of a flexible Europe sounds like pie in the sky. Brussels certainly doesn't want it. But there is going to be a hell of a crunch within the next few years. The new treaty which is supposed to by drafted in '07 and '08 has every chance of being shot down just like the EU Constitution was. And if the EU abuses the Turks enough - given that the current Government has staked everything on membership - there is every chance Europe will create a major crisis on its own doorstep, with Turkey leaving the West.

For now, day-by-day life in Brusssels continues. But a crisis is in the pipeline.

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