Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Decision for the EU

The European Union's decision to end talks on membership with Serbia in response to its failure to produce indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic is a reminder of the positive role it can play in the world. Offering the carrot of EU membership has led to many countries adopting policies which have allowed them to emerge with liberal democratic traditions they might otherwise not have developed. Turkey has improved its treatment of the Kurds. Eastern Europe has emerged as one of the most economically successful regions in the world with massive growth and stable democracies, particularly by contrast with a return to authoritarianism in Russia.

Allowing the Common Agricultural Policy to stand in the way of the completion of the Doha trade round is an example of where the EU fails the world's disadvantaged. Equally, there are countless examples of where it fails its own people, from plain corruption to over-regulation to a lack of respect for the will of those who wish to limit infringements on their sovereignty. However, the success of helping Turkey avoid the fate of Pakistan or the Arab states counts for a lot. Helping the Eastern European nations emerge into prosperity is equally a legacy to be proud of. It is a record in building nations that makes US power look shallow and destructive.

The role of prospective EU membership for states like Turkey is similar to the role of Marshall Aid for Western Europe at the end of WWII. Both Turkey and Western Europe faced difficult political choices. Marshall Aid mitigated against the short term costs of choosing a liberal form of economic organisation for Western European nations. Prospective EU membership similarly alters the political balance and makes it far easier for those in favour of liberalisation to establish the necessary consensus for lasting reform. While there are economic benefits to becoming a member of the EU or receiving Marshall Aid the benefits of the liberalisation needed to join or receive that aid are usually more significant.

The problem is that as the EU grows ever larger and more diverse it becomes ever more difficult to continue the other European project; closer union. More states mean a greater number of conflicting objectives and make the task of forming policy to fit all the different circumstances increasingly daunting. This is why Britain, as a eurosceptic nation, has spent so much time successfully pushing for further expansion. New members make it more and more likely that the EU will have to remain closer to its original nature as a free trade zone.

For some time the issue has been fudged. New nations were admitted, Turkey was told to wait a little longer for decades and always did. Eventually, though they will give up on prospective membership leading anywhere and the EU will lose its ability to help further states along the path to membership. Of course, this had to happen eventually but it would be a shame if Turkey, with all of its strategic significance as a large Muslim state which might act as a model for so many others, was the state the EU gave up on.

Europe, therefore, faces a decision. It can admit Turkey and maintain its role as a promoter of human rights and liberal democracy or it can sacrifice the tremendous potential of Turkey as an EU member on the altar of the false dream of ever closer union.

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