Analysis: Where does Europe end?

United Press International
August 10, 2004 Tuesday 12:28 PM Eastern Time

Analysis: Where does Europe end?



In the second century A.D. the historian Tacitus reported on a heated
discussion in the Senate about how far east the Roman Empire should
expand. Two thousand years later, a similar debate about where the
European Union’s eastern borders lie is raging in Brussels.

The soul-searching has been prompted by the EU’s biggest ever
enlargement on May 1, when Cyprus, Malta and eight central and east
European countries joined the world’s biggest trading bloc.
Overnight, the Union’s members jumped from 15 to 25 and its
population from 375 million to 450 million. But more important, it
altered the geographical make-up of the “old continent.” States that
were previously considered on Europe’s eastern fringes, like Poland
and Estonia, returned to their rightful place at the heart of the

The Brussels-based club, which started out with just six members
almost a half-century ago, also found itself with a clutch of new
neighbors on May 1. The EU-25 now shares frontiers with Croatia,
Serbia and Montenegro, Romania, Ukraine and Belarus and its borders
with Russia have been lengthened by the accession of Latvia and

The EU’s boundaries will continue to move east in the near future.
Bulgaria and Romania are due to join in 2007, and Croatia is expected
to become the 28th member of the bloc shortly afterward. In addition,
Albania and the former Yugoslav Republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro have all been promised EU
membership once ethnic tensions subside and democracy takes root.

But it is Turkey’s membership application that raises the biggest
questions about the European Union’s eastern limits. If Ankara joins
— a decision on whether to start accession talks is due to be taken
by EU leaders in December — the predominantly Muslim state will
become the EU’s most populous nation by 2020 and will expand the
club’s borders to the fringes of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia.

Then what? If Turkey, a country with over 90 percent of its landmass
in Asia, is allowed to join the Union, it will be difficult for EU
leaders to refuse the candidacies of the Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova
once the three former Soviet republics become fully-fledged
democracies with free-market economies. It will also make it hard for
Brussels to turn down any possible advance from Russia, a country
with a sizeable chunk of its population in Europe.

The EU treaty is clear about which countries can and cannot join the
bloc. “Any European state” which respects the basic principles of the
Union may apply for membership, it says. But this begs the question
of where the continent starts and ends.

There is general agreement, among cartographers at least, that the
Arctic and Atlantic Oceans represent the northern and western limits
of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea marks a natural divide with
Africa in the south. But when it comes to defining the continent’s
eastern edges, it seems there has been little progress since Tacitus’

The Ural mountain range in western Russia is widely seen as Europe’s
northeastern border, firmly placing Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova
within the EU’s orbit. But what about the continent’s southeastern
frontiers? The Caucasus mountain range stretching from the Black Sea
to the Caspian Sea would seem to be the natural dividing line between
Europe and the Middle East, but this would bar Georgia, Armenia and
Azerbaijan from future membership.

Asked whether it was time to settle Europe’s frontiers once and for
all, EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunther Verheugen told reporters in
June: “I do not foresee a debate about the borders of Europe. It
makes no sense.”

Given European leaders disastrous attempts at marking down boundaries
in the past, notably at Versailles in 1919 and Yalta in 1945, it is
easy to see why some politicians are reluctant about setting the EU’s
eastern frontier in stone. But not doing so is only likely to cause
confusion and sow the seeds of frustration among those queuing up for
EU entry.

In an interview with United Press International earlier this year,
Verheugen said: “In theory, all members of the Council of Europe (the
45-nation human rights body stretching from Vigo to Vladivostock) can
join. But practically, the western border of the former Soviet Union
will be the eastern border of the EU for a very long time, with the
exception of the three Baltic states.”

The EU’s “Neighborhood Strategy,” a kind of EU-lite for nations on
the bloc’s eastern and southern confines, may be politically
expedient given the task of absorbing up to 15 new or future members
over the next decade, but it reeks of double standards. Bosnia and
Herzegovina — a hopelessly divided country run almost as a United
Nations fiefdom — will be allowed to enter, but Ukraine, which could
become a healthy democracy if it dispensed with autocratic president
Leonid Kuchma, will not. Turkey will probably join within the next 15
years, but Russia — which has an equal claim to be part of Europe —
would almost certainly be blocked if it ever applied for EU

Supporters of the EU’s unlimited expansion claim Europe is not a
geographical entity but a union of values. Only last week, Belgium’s
new Europe Minister Didier Donfut told La Libre Belgique newspaper:
“The Union, as a community of values, should also turn towards the
Mediterranean countries, especially Morocco, even if this goes beyond
the historical European geographical limits.” If one accepts this
reasoning, what is to stop the United States or Australia — two
countries that share common values with European states — from
joining the EU? And if all states are potential members, what is to
prevent the EU from becoming a “regional organization of Europe and
the near east,” in the words of former French President Valery
Giscard d’Estaing?

Despite the fact that Turkey is predominantly an Asian country, it is
now almost impossible to deny it EU membership 40 years after it
first applied to join the club and almost half a century after it
entered the Council of Europe. But the way to avoid such confusion in
the future is to set the boundaries of Europe first and then see
whether applicant countries within those limits have met the EU’s
political and economic criteria for entry. Only when the
cartographers have finished their work should the politicians be
allowed back into the room.