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J. Paleckis: "How strong is European magnetism and where are its limits?" (The Baltic Forum) (2006 08 16)

People make jokes about European Union being more popular outside than inside of the EU, but it is not quite like that. The popularity of the EU has dropped here in Latvia after the accession but in Lithuania, for example, it is still very high.

The EU is a genuine magnet, pulling towards itself some other countries in its proximity. Come what may the polarization of such magnet is different, having in mind that the pulling vector is stronger in South - Eastern Europe, and a little bit weaker in Eastern part of it. Not all countries of the EU are pro-enlargement. France and the Netherlands, after failed referendums, are calling for a slowdown in the enlargement process and encourage a pause to be made, not only to reflect on the European Union Constitution but also to digest new members. Other countries, such as Great Britain, Sweden and others, are in favour of diffusion of the EU in the enlargement. The majority of politicians of these countries would prefer to transform the EU into a more symbolic organization handling first of all economic issues.

The European Commissioner Olli Rehn, who is responsible for the enlargement, stated recently that certain set of values determines the EU membership - values but not a geographical position. There have been some discussions in Brussels even about Israel joining the EU in a certain form. Also, Russia's participation in EU integration process remains an open question, even though no prominent political powers in Russia are showing interests in membership. Turkish membership is far away and quite problematic. The Western Balkan states’ membership is quite tangible. Interestingly, the French have adopted an amendment to their constitution, stating that a referendum must be held in case of every EU enlargement. This, however, will not be applicable to the forthcoming enragement to Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia. Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina dream about following the way of three mentioned Balkan states. The EU is fully aware of the fact that the region was, for many centuries, a "boiler" for many wars and conflicts and would rather prefer to overcome it by integrating the Balkans into the EU.

During the integration process the EU absorption capacity as a term was widely used and circulated between politicians in connection with negotiations about Turkey’s membership. The actual meaning of the term is not clearly defined; the EU Commission has to explain what it means. In any case, absorption capacity prevents Brussels from giving promises to Ukraine, Moldova and South Caucasus – countries which feel the magnetism of the EU quite strongly. I agree with those who argue that the EU would experience some kind of fiasco if after 15 or 20 years of negotiations with Turkey the public opinion, for example in France, would be negative about the accession of this country. This could happen not only in France but also in Latvia or Lithuania, Cyprus or Malta; it would simply mean the end of prospect for membership of a candidate country if people in any of these states pronounce "no" in referendum.

As a matter of fact, during the integration process the candidate countries became different in a positive sense: more democratic, wealthier, more caring for their citizens and human rights. The lack of this magnet would create instability in the Balkans, conflicts with Turkey and, possibly, with the entire Muslim world. That is why I strongly believe that idea of enlargement should not be dropped.

The magnetism of the EU weakens together with its charisma, when the question of Russia is addressed. The explanation is simple. Russia is also a powerful and far stretching magnet. The power of Russian magnet dwells first of all, in my opinion, in history, with all its positive and negative sides, in the creation of a centralized state, where the leader and the government take care of the wellbeing of the people, and, especially, in energy policy. In any case, it cannot be compared with the magnetism of the EU as a driving force for necessary reforms, changing legislation and implementing the human rights.

I would like to recall my conversation with the prominent Montenegrin journalist in Podgorica – the tiny capital of a tiny country which regained the independence in the referendum a week ago. This country is especially Russian-friendly. The warm feeling towards Russia is very spread in this country and its capital; Podgorica may be the only capital in the world where you can find monuments of Aleksandr Pushkin and Vladimir Visotskiy. So, this earlier mentioned journalist introduced himself as a Euroskeptic, but Euroskeptic of a special kind. He revealed to me his plan. "We, the Montenegro people, should integrate the EU legislation in our country, all 80 000 pages of the acquis communautaire, and do our homework, which is demanded from Brussels, in the best way. And only when Brussels approves us and gives the evaluation that Montenegro is perfectly ready for the accession we should say, 'no, thank you, we don’t want to be members of the EU''. This original approach confirms once more the magnetic power of the Union which helps to alter the country.

In the end I would like to stress that it is quite popular among some members of the European Parliament, but not so much in the Council or the Commission, to stress the difficulties and shortcomings which nowadays Russia is experiencing. The other way round, the official Moscow and mass media are especially inclined to exaggerate EU’s problems. The EU is depicted as a superpower, in many senses, similar to the US or China, forgetting that it is a Union of 25 sovereign states. It would be 27 in some month. Not only Germany or France, but also small Lithuania or Latvia, tiny Luxemburg or Malta can lock every essential decision. I would call for abandoning this "Schadenfreude" as Germans say (it means ''gloated over another's misfortune'') and starting to evaluate the processes in the EU and Russia in a more pragmatic way, showing more understanding and sensibility.

Here in Riga or Vilnius, but also in Kiev, Moscow and Tbilisi, people of my age are immune against pathetic and empty words and phrases about the Great Union. Nevertheless, I would stress that the alternative to European integration is a nationalistic Europe, which is neither in the interests of the people of the EU, nor in the interests of Russia. Mr. Pavel Globa, who tries to predict future using some sophisticated methods and who is quite popular here in Riga, prophesises that the EU as such will collapse in 10 years. My prediction is that the EU in 10 years will be larger and stronger. It doesn’t mean that the world will collapse if the EU fails, but the probability of this scenario and many serious threats to our planet will, no doubt, increase, without future-oriented EU project.


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