The Wiston House weekends are
one of the benevolent secrets of the Conservative Party. For the
past decade they have provided a forum for the Centre-Right parties
of Eastern Europe to discuss the problems of creating modern,
democratic, open-market parties in a post-Communist environment.
Most of the early participants have become ministers in their
countries at one stage or another.
The Conservatives take these weekends seriously. They are
organised by the Conservative International Office and sponsored by
the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. They are attended by MPs
and MEPs; this year’s weekend was addressed by Michael Ancram as
Shadow Foreign Secretary and by Bernard Jenkin as Shadow Secretary
for Defence. There were representatives of 15 countries, including
one Prime Minister. It was a good international occasion.
I was asked to open the Saturday afternoon session on the
enlargement of the European Union, from the point of view of an
independent journalist. I had found the prior discussion on the
individual countries particularly interesting. It is not often that
one has the opportunity, in a couple of hours, to get the
perspective of 15 different European countries, given by some
politicians in office, by some in opposition, and by political
intellectuals and advisers. It was a good moment to hear these
views, coming immediately before the next stage of enlargement of
the EU, and immediately after the enlargement of Nato.
If there is a positive vote in national referendums, ten new
countries are going to join the European Union. Their accession will
be approved next month at the Copenhagen meeting of the EU and will
come into effect on May 1, 2004. These countries fall into four
groups: the three small Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and
Estonia; the four Central European states of Poland, Hungary,
Slovakia and the Czech Republic; the former Yugoslav country of
Slovenia; and the two Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta.
The eight Continental countries had a tragic and bloody
experience in the 20th century. All of them formed part of the
Russian or Austro-Hungarian empires before 1914; all of them became
independent states after 1918; all of them were occupied by Germany
in or after 1939; all of them became part of the Soviet Warsaw Pact
empire after 1945; all of them finally regained their freedom after
the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact.
Their hellish 20th century has left deep political, social and
economic scars. Yet this history has also been a school of realism
and survival. The weekend was refreshingly free of the smooth
evasion of difficult issues which one meets too often in European
The new countries are largely Roman Catholic, Slav and poor,
joining a European Union which is largely secular, non-Slav and
wealthy. To our Western European countries, the Second World War is
an historic memory; to these Eastern European countries the collapse
of Soviet power is an event from the immediate past. The four
Central European countries will be the most influential. Poland
alone represents half the population of the new entry. In terms of
size, the new Europe will consist of Germany, with about 80 million
people, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, with about 60 million
each and Spain and Poland with about 40 million. These will be the
six largest nations of the new Europe, with most of the EU’s
population divided between them.
The new applicants have been in a weak bargaining position in the
negotiations for entry. They wanted both the economic opportunities
and the security which membership of the EU would give them. Nato is
important to them as well. The EU made them a “take it or leave it”
offer. They had to accept the whole acquis communitaire, all
85,000 pages of it. They were given no option about joining the
euro. In the history of negotiation this resembled Rockefeller’s
Standard Oil imposing terms on a group of small independent
The Polish bargain is so one-sided that it will probably be
adjusted; indeed, it will have to be. Poland is a very poor country.
As things stand, Poland will have to pay 100 per cent of its
obligations to the EU from the starting date. At the same time the
benefits to Poland from the Common Agricultural Policy will only be
phased in; the rate at the beginning will be only about 25 per cent.
As a result, Poland could start off as a net contributor to the
EU, despite being much poorer than any existing EU country. Even
Brussels thinks that is absurd, but has not yet found a mechanism to
put it right. The rich men of Europe are standing outside their
cathedral asking the poor to toss guineas into their top hats.
Poland is predominantly an agricultural country; agriculture is
also important to the economies of most of the other new entrants.
Like almost everyone else, the Poles had expected that the reform of
the CAP would take place before, or at the same time, as
enlargement. They were amazed at the Franco-German agreement which
has postponed the reform. They could see that such a postponement
might be in the narrow interest of France, but could not understand
why Chancellor Schrvder had agreed to it since Germany is the
largest net funder both of Europe and the CAP.
It is not only the Poles who are worried by this failure. The new
entrants do, indeed, want their farmers to have their fair share of
CAP subsidies, but they do not want the CAP to gobble up all the
funds which would otherwise be available to develop the economies of
the new Europe.
One figure gives an idea of the impact that the CAP can have. The
annual dairy subsidies given by the CAP and the European governments
put together come to more than $800 per cow. That is greater than
the individual income of half the world’s population including more
than one country from the former Soviet Union. There is already a
choice between subsidising cows or helping people.
Even if Europe were much more willing to be generous, the task of
modernising the economies of Eastern Europe would be difficult as
well as very expensive. Fifty years of Communism have been cruelly
damaging. The bureaucracy destroyed entrepreneurship; the lack of
incentives destroyed productivity; the whole culture became
inefficient. Despite very large subsidies, and in the most
favourable circumstances, East Germany is still much poorer and less
efficient than West Germany, or than East Germany itself was, in
relative terms before 1939.
The politicians I met at Wiston House are realistic. They do not
imagine that the EU can or will suddenly solve all their problems.
They see the EU as valuable to their countries but they also see
that it is in need of reform. They believe that their nations have
no choice about joining, but they do not think they will be entering
a land flowing with milk and honey. They are nothing like as
starry-eyed as British politicians were when we joined the Common
It is not the attitudes of the candidate countries that worry me,
but the attitudes of the existing European members, including Great
Britain. France may be out on her own in displaying an active and
watchful selfishness which will never willingly give up one inch of
French advantage, but the rest of Europe is almost equally selfish,
if in a more somnolent way. The enlargement of Europe is the right
gamble to take, but it surely is a great gamble. To make it a
success, these ten countries will have to be helped to rise to the
existing European economic level.
That is the test of the policy of enlargement. The German
experience has proved that this will not be a business of a few
years or a few billion euros — it will be a huge task, with the
possibility of failure.
That is not how enlargement in being approached. The voters of
Europe have been given little or no warning of the effort and
sacrifice that may be required. If the ten are accepted at the
Copenhagen meeting, we will be committing ourselves to help them
develop their societies to the European level. They naturally fear
that they may be joining the European Union as second-class
citizens; they resent and reject that idea. This is an experiment
with the lives of 75 million people and the future of viability of
the European Union is at stake. The EU is taking on a maximum
commitment but, unfortunately, with no spirit of generosity and a
minimum of thought.
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