Brussels plans to expand its empire again

The Times (London)
May 4, 2004, Tuesday

Brussels plans to expand its empire again

by Anthony Browne Europe Correspondent

With the largest-ever enlargement of the European Union behind them,
European officials are now preparing even more ambitious plans to
expand the Brussels empire across North Africa, the Middle East and

They hope that just as the enlargement last weekend helped to
entrench democracy in eight former communist countries, this new
policy will stabilise much of the Arab world, as well as the
still turbulent far eastern regions of Europe.

Next week, the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, will
launch a strategy document setting out details of an effective
enlargement of the EU over decades across all the Muslim countries
lining the Mediterranean, from Morocco to Syria, as well as Israel,
Lebanon and all the former parts of the Soviet Union that are in
Europe, including Russia.

This is in addition to the well-advanced plans for Romania and
Bulgaria to become full members of the EU in 2007, followed by all
the Balkan countries, including Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia.
The Commission will also announce in October whether it thinks that
Turkey is ready to join the EU.

Under the New Neighbourhood policy -also called the Wider Europe
policy – countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Ukraine and Russia
would be become full members of the single market, with open borders
for trade and investment, and their citizens given the full right to
live and work in the European Union. The policy has been agreed in
principle by the national governments of the EU.

However, they will be able to join the single market only if they
become democratic, improve human rights and establish free-market
economies upheld by Western-style commercial law.

The Commission spokesman said: “It is a win-win situation for us to
provide incentives for them to move closer to European standards.”

EU diplomats say that Jordan, Morocco and Ukraine are the closest to
meeting these criteria, but that for most of the North African and
Middle Eastern countries it could take ten or twenty years, or even

The new associate countries would initially be part of a single
European market, but wuold be denied membership of the
decision-making institutions -namely the Commission, the Council of
Ministers and Parliament.

Romano Prodi, the President of the Commission, said at the Dublin
enlargement celebrations this weekend: “The goal is to create a ring
of friends with whom we share common concerns, both political and
economic. In a sense, this is another concept of enlargement -an
enlargement without institutions.”

The Commission and European governments are worried about a popular
backlash against a policy that -combined with Turkey’s possible
membership -offers hundreds of millions of Muslims from across North
Africa and the Middle East the right to live and work in Europe.

Brussels officials are very keen to play down fears that it would
result in large-scale immigration. One insisted: “We are talking
about a very long time away. By opening their economy, and making
themselves investment and business-friendly, it will generate
economic growth, which makes less need to emigrate.”

In a further development, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, former
Soviet republics in the Caucasus region between the Black Sea and
Caspian Sea, will be told next month that they, too, eventually will
be eligible for the New Neighbourhood Policy. The three countries
have said that they want full membership of the EU, but initially
will be offered only access to the European single market.

Progress on the Balkan countries joining the EU is advancing fast.
Last month the Commission formally gave its permission for Croatia to
join, possibly as soon as 2007. The Former Yugoslav Republic of
Macedonia has formally applied to join.

The most controversial expansion is Turkey. EU governments have
promised to decide its future in Europe at a summit in December.
Britain and Germany insist that admitting Turkey, a country of 70
million Muslims, is vital to ward off the so-called “clash of
civilisations”. France has indicated that it is opposed.

Turkey’s population is expected to grow to 100 million by 2050, and
many European politicians worry that having a developing nation
almost entirely in Central Asia as the largest member will
effectively destroy the EU.