Posted in Vasabladet 13.10.2004
Just days before the EU published its report on Turkey things started moving in the European Parliament. There was a crack on the surface of political correctness and scepticism of a Turkish membership came oozing out. Not even the liberal group in the Parliament, previously strongly in favour of an enlargement covering the Anatolian peninsula as well, was the support for a Turkish membership particularly strong. The reasons for this caution may wary, but since there is such an enormous amount of dimensions I’d like to pick up on some thoughts.
My feeling is that what many witness now is how the Union rolls on like a train without stopping at the stations. Half a year ago the Union got ten new member states and in two years time Bulgaria and Romania will join. In three years Croatia is knocking on the door. No-one knows how the Union will function when it has been extended far into Eastern Europe and the number of member states has been redoubled. That’s why I, despite my conviction that cross-border co-operation enhance peace and understanding, do not belong to the multitude of people who uncritically support another enlargement, an enlargement that will undoubtedly change the character of the whole Union. I feel that I, as a decision-maker, have a certain responsibility to guarantee that the enlargement – the re-linking of Western and Eastern- Europe is carried through successfully. To heal the wounds in Europe created by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is a task that is far from being accomplished. For instance the costs of the last enlargement will only become clear next year when the national governments decide on the expenses for the period 2007-2013. The decision will determine how much money is canalised to the new member states and how much will remain in the old. Only then will the real effects of the budget be visible, when the payers will be countries with an aging population taking up an ever bigger share of the budget. The new constitution has not been ratified yet and a”yes-vote” cannot be expected in all referendums in Europe.
There’s also another dimension to it that both the Commission and president Martti Ahtisaari have forgotten in their statements concerning a Turkish membership. Mathematically it would mean that almost all minorities would lose their representation in the European Parliament. This will happen due to the fact that Turkey will be given as many seats in the European Parliament as Germany (or even more seats than Germany) and consequently all smaller parties in the member states will lose their representation. EU will as a result be a playground – with very few exceptions – for the majorities of Europe. With the past present in our minds one should ask with great concern if this is reasonable. Minorities have been the focus of the most recent wars in Europe. Imagine Bosnia and Serbia as members of the Union, but only represented by the largest ethnic group. One of the leading thoughts of the Integration process has been that the minorities should feel welcome and have influence even if they are spread over many countries. This influence would diminish in many fields that might affect upon their lives.
Federalists used to argue that it’s enough if minorities can influence their own immediate surroundings, for instance through representation in city councils. I do not share this line of thought. Minorities should not live in reserves, they should have an influence on the environment and should be a part of the entirety. EU deals with issues that affect us all, such as rules for state-owned companies and public purchases. These questions have an influence on every day issues such as the care of the elderly, which the municipalities buy from private producers or if public television companies should serve cultural and linguistic minorities. Since the EU legislation is binding and affects us all, it can’t be compared with other international bodies such as the United Nations or the OSCE.
The lost possibilities to influence do not only concern minorities. An extensively enlarged Union would urbanise the European Parliament and deprive the countryside in northern Europe of its representation. A fundamental part of democracy is the link between decision-makers, decisions and political responsibility. But if there isn’t any decision-maker the voters can identify with? Well, then there’s simply nobody that can be held responsible and then the assumption is reasonable that the democratic mechanism do not work. We would be very close to a situation where a sizable group of peoples could not get a person elected even if they would turn out in large numbers at the polls. One has to be allowed to say this. A Turkish membership would improve the geographical representation in Europe at the cost of the representation within the countries.
One is entitled to ask why the Union can’t expand while at the same time the diversity of Europe is maintained in its decision making bodies. There is certainly such a possibility but it has not been taken seriously.
It’s not a natural law that minorities and the countryside should lose its influence. The future diversity in the parliament is dependent on the decisions that are made. The Finnish parliament has in previous enlargements stressed that the European Parliament should reflect the diversity within the countries. The future now in sight with Turkey and probably also Ukraine and all the Balkan states as members nullifies this point of view.
It surprises me that the Commission, Martti Ahtisaari’s working group and now the single governments will not recognise this fact. By openly discussing this issue I think it would be easier to find a solution that can satisfy everyone. The apprehension that a bigger European Parliament would become incapable of functioning should not be exaggerated. The common understanding among decision-makers is that the parliament cannot grow from its current size has not been carefully examined. Rigidity in this case will alienate the citizens from the EU in a way that could have serious consequences in the long run. More than 10 percent of the population in the Union has another mother tongue than the majority of the country where they live. The countryside in northern Europe also needs someone speaking for them.
Europe is a cradle of diversity and this should be seen in the decision-making structures. It’s the price Europe should pay to make us all feel at home in the Union. It’s important that all the conflicts that the parliament has helped to bridge, are still represented in it. If this won’t be the case one has to admit that the aim of the Union on this issue will change. The emphasis on healing wounds within the member states of the European Union is being replaced by a cultural and geographical bridge building towards the southeast and further east. The new aim is not bad, but being the sole aim it’s not good enough for Europe. Among others Hungarians in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia and Austria, Poles in Lithuania, Germans in Italy, Denmark, Belgium and Slovenia, minorities in Spain, Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia, Croatians in Bosnia, Albanians in Macedonia, Swedes in Finland and Russian-speakers in the Baltic states would be without a voice in Europe. Such a situation wouldn’t of course be reasonable.
The European Union can of course work without minorities or countryside, but that would be a Europe I do not want.