Unity in Diversity
Sussex branch Recent news from central and eastern Europe What's on
The European Project is set in the context of the three major faultlines; first the Catholic/Orthodox schism, second the Christian/Muslim split with the crusades, and thirdly the Protestant/Catholic divide from the 16thC. With the Reformation the Protestant north moved ahead of the south, which stagnated. The EU has brought them back together. The Orthodox are still mainly outside, but with the arrival of Romania and Bulgaria more of them will be in. The Muslims do not seem to be welcome yet. In many ways the EU has reinforced the faultlines and reactivated old conflicts.
The 2004 enlargement saw eight countries from central and eastern Europe join the EU. One of the overwhelming feelings in these countries, after the collapse of communism, was that they were now able to reclaim their European cultural identity. Post WW2 the west had seen these countries as politically east and so have forgotten, or never knew, that they are culturally west they always were European.
If the original vision of Jean Monnet et al was inspired by the overriding need to prevent another European war, today the EUs primary challenge is to offer an economic model attractive and resilient enough to fill the vacuum left by the fall of communism and to cope with the challenge of globalisation.
Seemingly peaceful and prosperous, with high GDP growth rates. 2005 Latvia at 10.2% was highest in EU. However all are struggling with inflation and now not likely to join the Euro before 2008, Lithuania 2010
Neighbouring EU countries, Germany, Finland and Denmark have been heavily involved in their move to accession, calling on historical and linguistic ties. They are now confident in their own international roles in NATO, UN and EU and are developing economic and social ties across a wide range of non EU partners.
An interesting article by Alexander Stubb (see his website) highlights the need for a Baltic Sea Strategy and a Northern dimension to intra-region transport.
Has gone ahead quietly and confidently, building on natural advantages of attractive scenery and well-developed tourism. Has followed a comprehensive reform programme for achieving the Lisbon Strategy goals, and will introduce the Euro in January 2007. At 73% in a recent EU wide poll they are the most avid supporters. Italian and Hungarian minorities are well integrated and represented.
Accession of Bulgaria and Romania
Conditions for entry in 2007 are tougher than for the 2004 entrants; particular areas of concern are organised crime, control of animal disease and need for proper procedures to handle farm aid.
Economies in both countries have grown, and both governments stress progress made in addressing social and economic problems (see report on West Kent Bulgarian dinner for detailed facts and figures on Bulgaria), but to the objective observer there are still gross inequalities and poverty. The presence of a virulent ultranationalist candidate in the recent presidential election in Bulgaria got little coverage in this country.
With accession almost 3 million more Roma citizens come into the EU, making them at 10 12 million, the biggest ethnic minority group. Both countries have a lamentable record of racism towards this minority. They have set up The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 2015 with the aim of developing policies of inclusion.
Impact of enlargement on the UK
EU benefits to the UK in the past have been largely intangible cheaper flights, services, telecoms and given little publicity.
The tangible results of enlargement have been the number of migrants, greatly exceeding expectations. Fears of increased unemployment, schools and hospital services overwhelmed, unfair access to benefits have not been realised despite some strain; many jobless new immigrants are stranded homeless or exploited by slum landlords and unethical employers. In fact most who come are young, single and healthy, going to areas of where there are jobs. The Immigration Minister says they are filling skills and labour gaps and benefiting the economy. Brendan Barber writes that we must deal with exploitation, copy the Irish. Our best response in an increasingly globalised world is not Little England, but to fully embrace Europe with free movement of labour.
Impact of enlargement in France
The French No vote in the referendum on the new EU constitution highlights French current disenchantment with the European project.
The no vote was partly a franco/French affair, the result of discontent with the current government and the disarray of the Socialist party since the 2002 Presidential election. It also reflects the difficulty France has adapting to the challenge of globalisation, with their fear of loss of the French social model and dislike of anglo-american liberalism. Underlying this is Frances perceived loss of power and influence in the European project, in which, with Germany they were the major founding members and the driving force. At a membership of 15 the moteur franco-allemand was losing steam; 25 was definitely a step too far and brought the spectre of the possible membership of Turkey too close.
|Is there a European
A couple of rapid music illustrations aimed to provoke questions about values and diversity - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture puts the listener on one side of a struggle between two totalitarian regimes, morally clarified only by one being the attacker, the other the defender. An 18thC Hungarian folksong had roots stretching back through Bulgaria to Turkey, in a medium largely disseminated by wandering Roma musicians. Cultural attitudes seem to be a subtle mixture - the comfort of familiarity and the spice of difference.
The Visegrad Four
Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia
This association of four central European countries was set up 15 years ago, named after the Hungarian town in which kings of the same four countries used to meet to discuss co-operation back in the fourteenth century.
Some clear common issues expressed recently:
Other issues are often common to the four countries:
Instability in government following democratic elections.
Living with the past:
Impact on EU institutions
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