Staying on the European bicycle

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Building Europe is like riding a bicycle. If you stop, you fall off.

Cabinet making, European style, was not easy. But last week, the members of the European commission, nominated by national governments, were approved by the European parliament, which earlier had refused some very doubtful candidacies.

The new executive faces controversial issues. Now 25 strong, the EU must decide in December whether to begin accession talks with Turkey. In Austria, and even Holland, opinion is running against admitting the officially Muslim country of 60 million, which already belongs to NATO, the OECD, and the UN commission for Europe, but has a territory largely outside Europe.

As ten states prepare to celebrate their first year as EU council members, the secret to making decisions with 25 national voices around the table has yet to be found.The EU now has a draft constitution: Lithuania was the first to approve it; 24 more governments and as many legislatures still have to say yes; and at least a dozen countries plan to hold national votes to approve it.

And the EU is forever looking to break its long standing practice of expanding each time it faces becoming more like one country. The need to absorb new members has taken precedence over European integration, because, as French Socialist, and former EU Commissioner Jacques Delors put it, building Europe is like riding a bicycle. If you stop, you fall off. In this logic, the EU must grow in size, if it cannot grow in significance, or risk becoming moribund.

While the world has yet to see the emergence of European power, the success of the Euro suggests the EU has the potential to become the economic leader of the Western world. But, first, it must find a way to get the three big continental economies — Germany, Italy and France — going at the speed of Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Hungary and the UK.

While the population of the EU grew by 20 per cent when the ten new members joined, EU production only went up by five per cent. Bringing in the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, formerly part of the Soviet Union — and the central European part of the old Soviet bloc — Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — creates a whole new dynamic within the EU. Have-not regions of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are no longer first in line for generous development aid.

On December 1, the French Socialist party is holding an internal vote on whether or not France should approve the new EU constitution, drawn up through a complex process run by former French president Giscard d'Estaing.

The European socialist political family watches with dismay as the French argue over a document that contains a charter of fundamental human rights, but limits spending and social policy measures needed to bring the ten new members (and Greece, not to mention, eventually, Turkey) up to European norms for poverty, income distribution, regional disparities, life expectancy and social spending.

In a debate that prefigures national debates on ratification to take place over the next two years, French “no” socialists denounce the need for unanimity to change the constitution. The “yes” reply that the constitution is still a treaty, and as such it is better than the existing treaties that make up the founding documents for European government.

The European Union represents the first major challenge to U.S. hegemony since the nuclear bombing of Japan put the U.S. on display as the dominant world power. However, the political agenda for the emergence of Europe as a political entity is a long one.

A Canadian can only chuckle as the word federalism come in for praise, when it is not under attack, in political discussions of constitutional issues, that promise to go on for the foreseeable future. All this time, Canadian politics has really been all about riding a toboggan, and not falling off.

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