Two Ambassadors on European Union Enlargement

On October 3, 2005, the Institute hosted a panel discussion on the enlargement of the European Union with Eva Nowotny, Austrian Ambassador to the United States, and Martin Palouš, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States.  Chairing the discussion was Krzysztof Michalski, Chairman of the Institute’s Board of Directors and Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.  The underlying question was what Europe is, how large it should become, and where its borders (should) lie.

Ambassador Nowotny, drawing on her experience as Director General of European Integration and Economic Affairs at the Austrian Foreign Ministry, noted that the question has been largely avoided by politicians, who have answered in a roundabout way with the Copenhagen criteria, or rules defining “eligibility” to join the European Union.   She took up the issue of “deepening” and “widening” of the European Union, noting they have not always gone hand in hand.  She did emphasize, however, that every enlargement of has brought new strengths—both political and material—and increased stability.  The recent addition of the countries of central Europe, she argued, was particularly beneficial, overcoming an artificial division within Europe and revitalizing border regions.   The question of Turkey, she admitted, is more difficult, given its different history and cultural background.  She did not argue against Turkish membership in the EU, but said it would be a long and difficult process.  In her follow-up remarks, she said the last decades have brought such dramatic changes within Europe, that citizens are facing “enlargement fatigue.”  She argued this is the main reason for the failure of the referenda on the Constitution in France and the Netherlands, not fear as widely speculated.  She said people need some time to adjust to the new conditions before the process can continue.

Former opposition leader Martin Palouš offered his remarks in the context of Czech-Austrian relations since 1918, when Czechoslovakia was formed, and the great desire on the part of Czech people, after 1989, for a “return to Europe.”  Palouš said the return process was complicated because on the one hand, Europe itself was changing so much, and on the other, people’s perceptions were shifting daily.  He stressed the importance of dialogue, education, and cultural exchange to the integration process, which, he argued, has been the most important aspect in the transition of non-democratic countries to democracy.  A strong proponent of integration, he expressed some worry that the “viscous” and “virtuous” circles set in effect by the admission criteria, where good performers are rewarded, leaves some counties behind.  He did not think we can afford to leave countries behind without destabilizing results.  He proposed the criteria of “like-mindedness,” where countries such as Turkey are concerned, adding that sincerity and like-mindedness can be tested in concrete situations.  He agreed with Ambassador Nowotny that there is in Europe now widespread desire for stability.

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