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EUROPEAN UNION: THE BIGGER, THE MORE CONSERVATIVE

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BRUSSELS, Jun 1 2004 (IPS) - The profoundly conservative nature of European politics, the EU institutions, and individual member states is worrying, particularly as manifested in EU economic and social policy, writes Emma Bonino, deputy in the European Parliament and a nleader of the Transnational Radical Party. In this article, Bonino writes that current debates about the size of the EU budget are beside the point as long as almost half of these funds will go to finance the Common Agricultural Policy, which imposes a huge cost on EU consumers while ruining the hopes of hundreds of millions of farmers in developing countries. Another troubling example of conservatism was the decision by almost all of the fifteen old member countries to put off until 2011 complete freedom of movement for workers of the ten countries that just joined the EU. Then there is the continuous postponement of the initiation of serious negotiations on admitting Turkey. While the reasons for such prudence are comprehensible, the EU cannot lose this historic occasion to create a deep and stable connection between a large Islamic country and the liberal and democratic West.

Debate about the future of Europe, particularly its institution aspects, has filled the months leading up to the recent elections in the region and will fill those to come. It is clear that the future of the EU (which has 25 member states as of May 1) depends to large part on these aspects, as does its ability to face the major challenges that lie before it.

This is particularly the case with regard to the EU’s diplomatic and military role in the international arena, which it has perennially –and ineffectively– attempted to define.

What is most worrying at this point is the profoundly conservative nature of European politics, the EU institutions, and the individual member states. This is true first of all for EU economic and social policy, of which three examples present a clear picture.

1. Europe is presently consumed with animated debates about the EU budget, which is small in proportion to the community GDP (1.17 percent) but is relevant in absolute terms: 100 billion Euros. The problem is not the quantity of resources but the way they are used. Discussion of whether the EU budget should be 1 or 1.17 percent is beside the point as long as almost half of these funds will go to finance the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a system of agricultural subsidies and protections that impose a huge cost on EU consumers while they dash the hopes of hundreds of millions of farmers in developing countries trying to break out of poverty.

There is also a second cost to the CAP: it places the EU always on the defensive in negotiations of the World Trade Organisation, whose mission includes the elimination of protectionism and subsidies, which it considers trade barriers. Trade policy is one of a small number of completely communitarian policies and thus could be an important instrument of EU credibility in international diplomacy. Instead, in its current form it is Europe’s Achille’s heel, a source not of strength but of weakness.

A few months ago a group of high-level experts charged by the European Commission with preparing an Agenda for an Expanding Europe presented their conclusions. The key point of the agenda was the revision of the community budget by eliminating spending on agriculture and replacing it with investment in research, innovation, and infrastructure. The report was severely criticised by the very commission that requested it, first of all by the commissioner of agriculture Franz Fischler. It was then placed in an inaccessible archive.

At the 2000 Lisbon summit, the EU committed to nothing less than converting the region into the most competitive in the world before 2010 on the basis of knowledge, yet it is incapable of shifting into innovation and research the funds that now go to protecting European sugar producers from ”competition” from poor countries like Mozambique.

2. It is similarly contradictory to aspire to excellence on the basis of knowledge while shutting the door on biotechnology in the agricultural sector — among others. Why and in whose name Europe has opted to stay on the sidelines of competition in genetically-modified organisms and human biotechnologies is a question for another place. However, it must be clear that this decision deprives us of real participation in one of the most promising areas of scientific progress in our time.

3. Another troubling example of conservatism was the decision by almost all of the fifteen old member countries to put off until 2011 complete freedom of movement for workers of the ten countries that just joined the EU. Doesn’t this amount essentially to the creation of a de facto category of ”illegal workers of the EU”. And isn’t this clearly at odds with common sense, not to mention economic sense, and a commitment to a Europe of rights and freedoms?

The same might be said of the reluctance with which the question of Turkey’s admission to the EU is being treated — through the continuous postponement of the initiation of serious negotiations. While the reasons for such prudence are comprehensible, the EU cannot lose this historic occasion to create a deep and stable connection between a large Islamic country and the liberal and democratic West.

These three examples, though partial, give a clear measure of the conservative nature of European politics today. I do not underestimate the difficulty of forging a consensus on these issues and on liberal policies to address them, but what is certain is that Europe cannot build its future with its head in the sand. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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