5 January 2007

European Union: as the elephant walks

Half a century ago, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg started the idea of a commonwealth Europe, which was later joined by the UK, Denmark and Ireland in 1973. Today after its sixth expansion to include Romania and Bulgaria, this big elephant of 500M populations becomes the most economically powerful and unified states federation. Its official language grows to 23, including the dialects of Catalan and Basque. According to The Independent, the translation and publication cost is budgeted to 3.5M Euro per year.

This gigantic empire is the most successful example of bloodless regime change in the contemporary history. Most of the new members walked through the living memory of dictatorship to a more liberal democracy and economically advanced stage. Expansion is the historic triumph of the EU, but expansion means change and change is always disruptive. Self-double is the immediate result.

The ultimate dream is a unified Europe and the long-term economic implication is, of course, prosperity. However, short-term results are the flux of westward migration causing unemployment and burdening local services in the West and the abandonment and population drop in the East. Such as, in Romania, 10% of the population has migrated to the West (mainly in Italy and Spain) while in Bulgaria, it's estimated that in some decades, 30% of its population will be lost to the West. Thus, the backlash is the "anti-Polish Plumbers" in France and the restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians workers in most countries. There is also the fear of increase of organized crimes in the continent. Turkey's candidacy arouses the fears of losing the EU's cultural coherence by integrating Muslims into European societies. The situation is further complicated by the competition from the emerging economic powers of Asia which has already been bearing down on the sluggish European economics.

Thus, when the EU is enlarging itself ceaselessly, internal unbalance is getting serious and doubt on the absorption rate arises. There are cries urging a stop to this absorption. It is believed that if the Constitution is not going to be passed in 2009, countries such as Ukraine, Croatia and Turkey will have to wait for a longer time. The empire is a never-so-successful one and yet a never-so-self-doubting one. As the big elephant grows and walks, it's losing its sense of direction. There is a serious discrepancy of "where we are coming from" and "where we are heading to". The EU as a whole is happy party for all, but on the individual level, members are not so happy with the party.