Marking the success of EU expansion & the accession of 10 new Member States in 2004
The 1st of May, or May Day, marks one of the most significant dates in the ancient Irish calendar. The midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, it is a time when people say goodbye to the cold and unproductive winter and herald in a bright new dawn, the first of summer.
More recently, this date marks a turning point in our now shared European history. The day when, a decade ago, Ireland, as President of the Council of the European Union, presided over the largest ever expansion of the European Union by welcoming ten new Member States.
Beacons at Bealtaine
Speaking at Áras an Uachtaráin on that day in 2004, Irish poet laureate and Nobel prize winner for literature, the late Seamus Heaney, delivered a poem that was commissioned for the Day of Welcomes. Beacons at Bealtaine spoke of
‘…A day when newcomers appear
Let it be a homecoming and let us speak
The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,
Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare
Like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak,
From middle sea to north sea, shining clear
As phoenix flame upon fionn uisce here.’
It is true to say that we, as a Union, have risen to Heaney’s call to ‘Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare’.
2004’s expansion brought with it a range of new meanings; a change in how we viewed ourselves and how, in turn, the rest of the world looked upon us. It is this concept of new meaning that I would like to explore this morning. I will do so by touching on three areas.
First, I will look at how the 2004 accession - the unprecedented growth and expansion of the European Union - provided new meaning for all of its new citizens.
Second, how many within the Union have moved from a state of dependence to independence to interdependence and how this is defining our present and the future of Europe.
Lastly, I will look at how best Europe should respond to this interdependence.
A new meaning, a new way
To understand and fully appreciate the achievement of this widespread expansion of the Union, consideration must be given to the past of these states; to Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. And soon after, in 2007 during the second phase of that enlargement, to Bulgaria and Romania. Where they were coming from, what their history held.
With the majority belonging to the former Eastern Bloc, one from the former Yugoslavia and two made up of Mediterranean islands, the change in circumstances encountered by these states in a relatively short period time was immense.
This was particularly felt by those who were aiming to become liberal and market based democracies. As the Cold War was coming to an end in the late 80s and the USSR’s sphere of influence was diminishing, a path was opened up for new economic, political and social links to be made. A life altering journey was taken by these states.
That this extraordinary change took place in a peaceful context is something that we must continually emphasise. A Director of an early European think-tank, Mark Leonard, remarked that what we have observed since 1989 'is regime change on a scale never before seen in human history but without a single shot being fired'.
That an expansion of borders could take place with such relative ease and lack of aggression is testament to the desire of the accession states to become part of the Union. This sentiment was matched only by the EU’s desire to welcome them and to grow.
For Ireland, the fact that it took place during our tenure of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union is one of the greatest achievements of Irish foreign affairs policy.
Expansion & exports, institutions & income, traffic & trade
Expansion brought with it change. And not just for those who were becoming new members but also for existing members. That change came in many forms; from expansion to exports, institutions and incomes, our traffic and our trade. These changes were all facilitated by the broadening of our EU borders, which saw, as a consequence, a shift in the way states interacted with one another.
The role of soft power was emphasised. American political scientist, Joseph S. Nye, defines soft power as the ability to attract rather than coerce. He claims it is the ‘attractiveness of a country’s culture [or in this case the EU’s culture], political ideals and policies’ that wins people over. The countries looking to join the EU did not do so purely in the name of the aforementioned traffic and trade. They did so because they saw in the EU, a union of values, the prospect of a more secure way of life and a better future for its people. And this continues to be the case as new countries work towards membership; a process which Ireland wholeheartedly supports.
By creating an environment in which others wish to assume EU values, as opposed to seeking to impose those values, which is never the will of the EU, our Union can grow and prosper to the benefit of all. The 2004 accession is a historical example of this. So too is the fact that EU flags are today waved in many parts of the world as a symbol which represents the values of individual freedoms and democracy.
That year was also the catalyst for significant changes within the EU institutions. The need to review the EU's constitutional framework was heightened by the accession of the ten new Member States. The aim of the Lisbon Treaty which was to follow was to improve the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of a greatly expanded Union.
It resulted in moves from unanimity to qualified majority voting in several policy areas in the Council of Ministers, greater powers of co-decision for the European Parliament, and the creation of a President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
From a national perspective, the economic benefits for the accession states were expected to be notable, as people availed of opportunities through free movement and integration into the Single market.
In the years prior to accession, trade between the new members increased fivefold. It is estimated that the accession process contributed growth of almost two percentage points each year in Central and Eastern Europe between 2002 and 2008, generating 3 million new jobs during that time and presenting greater opportunities for young and old alike.
The economic advantage of expansion, however, is a two-way street. In 2013, Ireland’s merchandise exports to the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004 were valued at more than €1.7 billion.
So what is the consequence of all of these varied changes? Of course there are many. I want to emphasise interdependence.
Dependence to independence to interdependence
As a country that has moved from a state of dependence to independence and interdependence, Ireland’s fortunes and our fate have been radically altered through our membership of the European Union.
We are not alone in this.
The last 20 years has seen a dramatic deepening of the political and economic links between our countries as interdependence is increased through trade and technology. But this has not just happened among the member of the EU, but has taken place in a broader context. As globalisation has taken hold, our world has become infinitely smaller and our reliance on one another reinforced.
There have been numerous positive consequences to this. However, events such as the sovereign debt crisis demonstrated the economic dimension of these deeper connections and the arresting impact they can have on our lives.
Increased interdependence is a defining feature of our past and will be the defining feature of our European future. It has many dimensions, through the environment, our health and our politics. To borrow a phrase, consequences have the potential to go viral with greater velocity and greater repercussions in the future.
This is the contemporary rational of the EU. A unique strength of the Union has always been our ability to structure interdependence through discussion, negotiation and the application of values. It offers all countries the best platform through which we can advance our own national interest and provides a platform through which we can achieve so much more united than we could ever hope to alone. This is particularly true when tacking issues such as climate change, health, consumer concerns and banking oversight.
Strength through shared sovereignty
Sociologist, Anthony Giddens, has recently described Europe as a 'community of fate', saying that political leaders have become aware of their interdependence. He introduces the concept of 'sovereignty plus', which allows countries to acquire more scope to influence their fate by the pooling of sovereignty.
But with this interdependence comes doubt for some, worry for others and outright
opposition from a few. We face challenges in maintaining support for political and economic integration given that some argue that they are the very cause of our recent difficulties.
But how should Europe best respond to the challenges presented by this increased interdependence? I suggest we should do it in four ways.
First, we must demonstrate the same level of vigour in defending what we have built up as those who are intent on tearing it down.
Events in recent years have sent shockwaves across Europe but the predictions from the prophets of doom in respect of the failure of the euro or how best to deal with the economic crisis have proven to be wrong. What reasons do we have now to put our faith and the futures of our children in their hands? We must defend our forecast of hope and plans to turn the fortunes of Member States around with the same certainty that others have predict our demise.
Second, the fundamental freedoms of the Union – the free movement of people, goods, services and capital - must be supported and developed as each plays a critical role in creating the collective deal, or bargain, that is the European Union. The enhancement of the Single Market is crucial in making this happen.
Certainty and passion cannot be confined to the extremes of politics. The centre must hold.
Third, we must work to maintain the Community Method which ensures an independent and well functioning Commission. One of our greatest successes of the Union is our delivery of equal opportunity for all Member States. The Commission’s right of initiating legislation ensures a level playing pitch for all. It is in this way that the rights of all countries are defended. The Commission and the Community Method must be supported in responding to our many challenges and opportunities. A strong Commission with the Union's best interests at heart, is more necessary than ever to a well functioning Union.
Finally, we must implement the policies that will deliver economic growth for our people. By protecting, reforming and deepening the Single Market we can enhance opportunities and create the jobs that will allow us to prosper. We can do this by removing barriers to trade and developing the Digital Single Market.
Implementation of the banking union will help to restore confidence in our banking systems and ensure that our banks are regulated effectively and that their costs are dealt with fairly.
The delivery of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) so that trade between the EU and the US can be enhanced for the benefit of all of our people must also be secured.
Our strength into the future
The sociologist, Ulrich Beck wrote:
'It is a paradox that the very success of the EU is one of the reasons for the lack of esteem in which it is held. Many of its achievements are so much taken for granted that they would probably only be noticed if they were to disappear'.
The strength of the EU is in our unity of purpose. It has facilitated radical transformation for all of us through the promotion of peace and democracy, the strengthening of economic, political and social bonds and the creation of safer and more prosperous societies.
The 2004 accession created a broader and stronger Union to continue this transformation. While membership increased by 74 million, the impact was far bigger. Enlargement deepened our union of values and created an EU capable of prospering in a globalised and ever changing world.