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The worst thing the EU could do now would be to announce the end of enlargement and the closing of Europe's doors. True, the results of the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands can be interpreted as the "old" Europe's protest against the admission of as many as 10 new member states last year. All that has been compounded by the fiasco of the June budget summit. But the shock will eventually pass away, and Europe will remain with new, self[-provoked problems, writes commentator and former Moscow correspondent Slawomir Popowski in Rzeczpospolita.
Unfortunately, judging by politicians' and experts' statements, that is precisely what is happening. Many are questioning the European aspirations of not only Ukraine but also the Balkan states, and even Bulgaria and Romania, which are preparing for accession in 2007. That is putting these countries in an extremely awkward position. The consequence may be a destabilisation of the political situation on the whole continent, with all the consequences of that.
It is no accident, writes Popowski, that the Ukrainian orange revolution has been perceived as one of last year's most important political developments. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians went to the Independence Square to protest against elections rigged by the ruling elite and Moscow. In fact, it was a revolt against an attempt to subordinate a sovereign state, and at the same time a powerful voice for Ukraine's "European choice."
Ukraine, as an independent state, cannot exist in suspension between two worlds: the European one and the Russian one, and that is in fact how, irrespective of the slogans saying otherwise, the continent is divided today. Kiev could for some time stick to a policy of "multi-polarity," zigzagging between Moscow and the West, but now, when neo-imperial ambitions have been revived in the Kremlin, Ukraine does not have much of a choice. In the longer-term, it can be either "Russian" or "European." The chances that some alternative third scenario would succeed are minimal.
Another example are the Balkans. Europe involved itself directly in regulating the conflicts that, following the collapse of Yugoslavia, convulsed the whole region. It success was partial at best. The wars caused by the conflict of the Serbian, Croatian, and Albanian nationalisms were stopped, but the Balkan pot is threatening to boil over again.
If it has not done so already, it is not only because of Nato soldiers in Kosovo or Sarajevo. Also because Slovenia's accession and the expected opening of entry talks with Croatia have created a prospect of accession for each of the Balkan states. Thwarting those expectations and aspirations, in a situation where the conflict in Kosovo remains unsolved, where the situation of Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia remains unclear ? would invite the return of violent nationalisms.
In this situation, can the EU now say: let not anyone expect to ever find itself among us? Of course it can, says Popowski, but it should not. It will not escape the problem anyway. Whether the EU likes it or not, it has become a centre of integration for the states and societies directly neighbouring with it. Shutting the doors would also be inconsistent with the very idea of the EU. It may have done that when it was still the Coal and Steel Community, or even the Common Market. But not today, when it has become an important player on the global stage.
The EU's firm "no" to Kiev's European aspirations means a "yes" for Moscow's attempts to regain the status of a global power. The result would be a completely changed geopolitical situation in Europe. It is no accident that Moscow reacted with joy and relief to the fiasco of the French and Dutch referenda, and then to the failed Brussels summit. All because, many Russian commentators were saying, the EU had hurried too much with the admission of the new members and would now think twice before making another step to the east.
Such a reaction is understandable. Russia needs the EU, the European markets and investment from Europe, and at the same time fears it and perceives as a rival. An EU enlarging and competing with Moscow in the post-Soviet space is a dangerous prospect. Even more dangerous than the Nato, for though the EU does not pose a military threat, it offers a much more attractive development model. Ukraine, Moldova, or even Belarus ? if they found themselves in the EU ? would be lost for Moscow forever, and without them, Russia, even with its nuclear arsenal, could at best be a regional power, something it refuses to accept.
The European order that suits Moscow best is one based on the concert of powers. Hence the attempts to develop special relationships with Germany and France, as well as overt attempts to treat the "old" member states differently than the new ones. A united EU, with a common policy towards Russia, would be a far more difficult partner. And that is likely the main factor behind Moscow's intense diplomatic efforts aimed at causing the new member states, including Poland, to be deprived of any say over that policy. In practice, the success of the Russian strategy would mean a return to the 19th-century model, with its well known historical consequences.
Real Threat of Destabilisation
From that point of view, notes Popowski, one can hardly understand the enthusiasm of the eurosceptics feting today the defeat of the "Brussels bureaucracy." If they believe that the constitution's fiasco and the EU's deepening internal crisis will make possible a return to the past, a reduction of the EU's role to that of a common market, they are seriously wrong. Such a return is impossible because, whether we want it or not, the EU is, even in its present imperfect shape, a geopolitical subject.
The internal crisis stems precisely from the fact that the EU has been unable to give a proper institutional form to that. That, being a great political project, it has been unable, due, among other things, to conflicting interests, to develop a clear vision of its own future. Its last truly great project was the decision to admit the 10 new member states, and today the EU seems to have grown frightened of the opportunities presenting themselves before it and its own greatness.
That is why the calls for shutting Europe's doors and ending enlargement are dangerous. True, calls for the contrary are not very popular today, and can even evoke an ironic smile. Only few politicians, like Aleksander Kwasniewski recently in Germany, have had the guts to say that, in the face of such a severe crisis, Europe should "remain faithful to its vision," and that "further enlargement is not a threat but an opportunity." Nonetheless, it is them who are right.
No one is saying that Ukraine, Moldova or even Serbia and Belarus will be able to start their accession talks shortly. That may take 10 or 20 years. But they have to know the possibility exists and be offered a clearly defined path towards it. Otherwise, the EU itself will complicate the situation on its borders. And the period of 10 or 20 years should be enough to straighten the situation and "digest" the first great wave of enlargement.
The European Union is a great political project, unique on a global scale. And it should remain that. Its failure, a fiasco of the idea of European solidarity and the victory of national egoisms, could become the beginning of new upheaval in Europe. The threat is quite real.