||Keep faith with enlargement|
Corriere della Sera - December 16th 2006
New Year’s Day is supposed to be a happy occasion, on which the troubles of last year can be forgotten, and when the new year is too young for troubles to have yet occurred. Yet January 1st in Europe is destined to be rather glum, even for Romania and Bulgaria, which on that day will become the European Union’s newest two members. For, as this week’s EU summit in Brussels showed, enlargement no longer makes Europeans happy. It makes them fear immigration, crime, job-losses and many other ills. Perhaps this is just the temporary result of economic stagnation. But if it proves permanent, it will be a tragedy.
Ever since the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European project has had three essential purposes: the preservation of peace; the creation of higher living standards; and the construction of global political influence. Enlargement serves all three purposes admirably—better, I would argue, than any other single European policy. This is true of the admission of Romania and Bulgaria; it will be true of the eventual admission of further Balkan countries such as Croatia and Serbia; and it would be true of the admission in one or two decades’ time of Turkey and Ukraine, if that happens.
To have more countries inside a club bound by treaties, law and common values is also to enlarge the borders of European peace and democracy. To have a single, barrier-free market that encompasses more countries and more people enhances the chance that increased trade, investment and innovation within Europe will raise living standards for all Europeans—as it has throughout the past half century. And when nearly 500m people combine their voices in global negotiations or combine their military forces to achieve common goals, Europe’s political clout grows in a world in which the American superpower, the wealthy Japanese and the emerging Chinese and Indian giants are the main protagonists around those negotiating tables.
Expressed in that way, it seems obvious: Europe should keep on recruiting new members. So why is there so much unhappiness about it, even in countries like Italy which in the past have been quite favourable to enlargement? One reason is simple, and easily solved by a bit of patience: as in any aspect of life, when change comes very rapidly it risks making people feel unsettled. Europe had its largest ever expansion, from 15 countries to 25, only two-and-a-half years ago. That takes time to get used to, especially when unemployment is high and economic growth has been low.
A second reason, however, is that enlargement has become associated with immigration, and where unemployment is high immigration is seen as a threat. Italy, which has faced a lot of problems caused by illegal immigration, naturally fears a big influx of Romanians. Yet, against this fear, I would argue two things: that illegal immigration is a problem regardless of EU enlargement, since many illegal immigrants come from North Africa, China and elsewhere; and that a steady flow of legal immigrants is actually good for economic growth and living standards, not bad. Immigrants earn money but also spend it too, and having people come to the jobs is surely better than having the jobs move abroad instead as factories close and re-locate to Romania itself. The British experience since 2004 with Polish workers is that many of them are seasonal, or at least temporary. They come and go.
There is, however, a third reason of which politicians are especially fond. It is that to bash foreigners is an easy route to popularity, since they have no vote, which is why both the main candidates in France’s forthcoming presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, have taken a position against enlargement and especially Turkish entry. That way, they can divert attention from the much more difficult issues of domestic reform and of reform of the one big EU policy that is incompatible, in the long term, with enlargement: the Common Agricultural Policy. But then European farm subsidies are also incompatible with other things: low consumer prices, global trade talks, the economic development of Africa, and plain common sense. Ah! Another very good reason to support enlargement!