Speech delivered by: Lord Robertson
Date: 11 July 2005
The answer to my question is a resounding no. Within the limits of European geography we cannot simply say that the ‘Club’ is full up, that it has no more room and that the fate for non-member democratic states is to watch through a closed window those lucky enough to get in early. That is an eventually unsustainable position and one which builds in its own dangers to ourselves.
But there are real questions of timing and tempo. There are serious issues of absorption and of functionality. The ‘Club’ has been hugely successful, and hence a magnet for new members, but with every incremental enlargement the internal processes which brought about that success get increasingly strained. The modest procedural reforms contained in the European Constitutional Treaty have now gone down with the whole overloaded ship.
That is why the simple answer of ‘no closed door’ is both attractive - and illusory. We have now to be both visionary – and brutally realistic as well. We have to see a way forward for the states outside the union which will give them hope for the future, and keep them on the reform path but at the same time search for ways in which we can both maintain the integrity of mission and the public support for the Union of states.
At the moment there is a crisis if identity in Europe. The referendum results in France and the Netherlands have called a pause to a process of integration and expansion which seemed unstoppable. Whether this identity crisis was caused by the Constitution Treaty going too far, or memories growing short, or politicians going at a faster pace than the people they represent, there is no one clear answer.
In my case I thought the Treaty doomed when the Swedes rejected the Euro in the wake of the murder of my friend Foreign Minister Anna Lindh. If there was no momentum in these amazing circumstances then there was hardly likely to be a majority for a fat, complex new set of EU rules and competences. I say that as one who believed the Treaty to be necessary and sellable.
But a crisis of identity is not a crisis of being. There is no chance of the Union dissolving, or of any of the Euro countries dropping it, or of us unraveling the acres of rules which now bind the countries together. A momentary pause in enlargement and a blazing, but necessary, row about the budget (at 1% of EU GDP hardly the material of open war) will not break anything except a political reputation or two. Like every other of the EU’s crises in the past it will be resolved in compromise and fudge, but it will be resolved.
So in charting a way forward it is important to recognize and publicise the success of this remarkable democratic unification of our continent. Like so much in our life we take that pacification of warring territories for granted and even today on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War 2 – essentially a European Civil war which over-spilled, we are far too complacent about the sacrifices of those who fought for freedom and the visionaries who built the institutions which perpetuated that freedom.
The Walls of Communism started falling just fifteen years ago. A blink of the eye in historical terms. There were plenty of doomsayers then. They predicted bloodshed and riots in the streets of the newly liberated countries. They said that the depths of revenge built up by two generations of repression would paralyse and traumatise these new democracies. They forecast long years of turbulent politics and economics following the dull, corrupt hand of the Communist system.
The doomsayers were proved wrong. Short of 16 years since the Berlin Wall was breached the countries of east and central Europe have made the transition from command to mixed economies and from no democracy to vibrant democracy. With the sole exception of Belarus, all of the former communist satellite states are in or on the brink of NATO and EU membership. That is a formidable and unpredicted leap forward for our all-so-fractious continent.
And it is no accident. This was no natural evolution to the new world. Instead it was a transition largely fed by ambition to be in the institutions seen as having delivered prosperity, stability and safety to the Western part of the Continent. The magnet of EU and NATO membership was decisive in achieving the changes in economies, democratic structures, relations with neighbours, independent judicial systems, anti-corruption regimes, and reformed and useable armed forces.
The little credited Günter Verheugen, Enlargement Commissioner in the last European Commission, relentlessly pursued the applicant countries over compliance with mountains of EU standards. I used to follow a parallel track with NATO applicant states preaching high military and civic standards so I know how diligent, persistent and ultimately successful Günter was in his mission.
The fact that these countries made it to EU membership, and that they now have economies to put the old members to shame was down to the carrot of EU membership and the stick of compliance or no ticket to entry. No other force, political or economic, foreign or home-grown could have made the transformation of these countries so dramatic and settled. Without EU membership there as a realistic objective it could have taken 50 years or more to get the same degree of change. Let those who see the EU only as a bureaucratic monster think for a moment how safe we are now to have such stable neighbours and to give credit where it is due.
But Europe has for now pressed the pause button on the enlargement disc. Negotiations with Turkey start on 3 October but a huge cloud hangs over them. I passionately believe that Turkey will be an essential component in the new EU but it will be a big pill to swallow for some publics. We must continue to educate and explain the issues in the lengthy period of the negotiations.
The Balkan states have been given their perspective, the EU word for half a promise, and there is no doubt that this part of the world needs the steel hoops of EU membership to anchor its people in a future well away from their past.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the bloody slaughter at Srebrenica and a moment to reflect on the horror in the heart of our own continent. The scars have not gone, the feelings will take years to moderate, but ten years on from the killing fields, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a functioning country with a fraction of the foreign peacekeepers they predicted would be required for a generation. That is success, but only inside the European family of nations will we suppress the demons for ever.
Bulgaria and Romania have their dates but they still continue to stumble their way to getting their essential standards and laws in place in time.
That leaves an uneasy question mark over the next phase. Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia all look towards the west and expect one day, when they have sorted out their countries sufficiently, to join the democratic union of nations. That day may be distant, the conditions onerous and hugely demanding, but their transformation may only happen at all if we make it clear that one day they too will be eligible to walk in the European doorway.
Given the importance of these countries in strategic, economic and energy terms, we cannot ignore the fact that their ambitions are umbilically tied to our own economic survival.
One way forward in this dilemma facing the 25 countries now engaging with the UK Presidency is to use some lateral thinking. NATO enlargement has been a parallel force uniting the continent – and one which has kept the US closely involved all the way. If the EU is on hold, then NATO may have to carry more of the water. It needs to be no less stringent in its conditions than the EU, and in NATO’s enlargement it was made clear that military reform was only one of the key standards we set down for membership. But NATO can offer membership of the European security family in a way which might persuade a sceptical and distrusting EU public opinion to recognize that a united continent is a win-win proposition.
In the meantime European leaders at every level need to resell the benefits and bonuses of the integration of the last 30 years. If we did not have a European Union today, we would be struggling every six months to invent it.
We would see the advantages of one trade policy with a single voice negotiating for us. We would aspire to having a barrier-free commercial market with 280 million people to trade in. We would see the necessity to have one set of environmental regulations in a world where pollution and problems ignore national borders. We might not see the complete necessity for a Common Agricultural Policy which swallowed 40 per cent of our common funds, but we would think it sensible to coordinate food production on a transnational basis.
We would see all of that and we would struggle to put it together and we would probably fail. But that effort is not anyway necessary because we have it, and we should be mightily glad that we do. But maybe in selling the immeasurable benefits of what we have, we could remind ourselves and our electorates of what it would be like without it.
And there is no better time than in the wake of the atrocities of last week in this city to drive that message home. Trans-European solidarity is already there; the casualties yes and the sickening bloodshed but also the sense of quiet resolution and panic-free procedures we saw last Thursday has galvanized other European states. They were reminded brutally of their own vulnerability and of the pettiness of differences between them which have dominated recent days.
We need the EU to take an urgent lead in facing the renewed threat from the terrorists. Since 9/11 only limited progress has been made in the EU, and between the EU and other multilateral organizations like NATO. Turf wars between institutions and between the EU and its member states have inhibited the kind of major transnational action which alone will deny the terrorists the upper hand. That is an unpardonable disgrace and one which must be addressed immediately.
I see some key priorities in the wake of the attack on London.
First, we must recreate the sense of unity and solidarity we saw after the attacks on 9/11. Too many people, in too many high places, are still fighting the political war about military action in Iraq. This self-indulgent debate about the past has provided an open door for the forces of darkness to reassert their mission of death. Terrorism will not be eliminated by military means which are the last resort; it will be confronted by diplomatic, financial, communications and other policies which get into the roots of the terrorist culture.
Second, we need to collect more and better information and intelligence. The smallest items can cumulatively provide a picture which will tell us what the terrorists are about. Intelligence is not all about spies, it is about vigilant, observant citizens watching what is happening around them and reporting strange, aberrant and suspicious behaviour. Individual countries also need to avoid the paranoia of security services which hoard intelligence like gold; they must share with other countries.
Third, we all have to be more vigilant, more perceptive, and more wary – in order to deny the bombers and killers the space to make their plans. The success of the authorities in foiling so many plots has encouraged the feeling that that there were no plots. After this rude awakening we need to get back on to the alert before it happens again.
Fourth, we need to use technology against the bombers and reduce our own vulnerability. It will be inconvenient, as security is at airports and on planes, but simple procedures make the opportunities for mass casualties much less. For example the technology for screening for weapons is already there – it needs to be more widely used. The machines for detecting even miniscule traces of explosive on a hand or a handled ticket can be deployed. All of this expensive but, like ID cards in this country, they all provide more and more trip-wires for the minority who seek to subvert our democratic societies and civilizations by the promotion of murderous violence.
An integrated Europe, with all the sophistication and inner strength it has is in the best position to build the barriers to extremist violence, while simultaneously protecting our mixed and stable communities.
The answer to my question is still no – there is no limit to EU enlargement. But the issues ahead are complex, the road ahead full of twists and potholes, there are diversions and there will be distractions but the destination is still without serious contradiction. Gifted navigation is however going to be necessary and that will require real skill, great bravery, immense persuasiveness and a lot of luck. But it can be done.