‘Do not blame the crisis on enlargement’

After his remarkable speeches in Berlin and Oxford, which we have commented on in this blog before, Leiden University had the pleasure of hosting the third European integration speech by Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. The speech he gave today in the Academiegebouw in Leiden was dedicated, as is only fitting, to Dutch-Polish relations, but also, like the previous ones, managed to combine the diplomatic pleasantries with a passionate plea for European integration and solidarity between the European Union’s member states. Many of the arguments and quotes deserve a special mention and we will return to them in the coming days. For now, I wanted to highlight two themes close to several of this blog’s key discussions: his understanding of the role of political leadership for promoting the EU and the look back on the Eastern enlargement.

The role of political leaders in Europe according to Sikorski: to promote European integration and to keep explaining that Brussels is us. He specifically mentioned several times that Prime Minister Rutte has recently said that he would need to sell ‘Europe’ to the Dutch public. Diplomatically, Sikorski stressed how much he agreed with this statement, but, as watchers of European politics in the Netherlands, we had to wonder whether the Prime Minister has ever really taken this task to heart. We have been waiting for him to do this for quite some time. In fact, most of the time he returns from a meeting in Brussels, he expresses to the media his satisfaction that he had been ‘fighting really hard’ for Dutch interests. This approach, as Sikorski noted with respect to all political leaders playing such two level games, has exhausted its logic. And I think we can safely add it is getting more and more dangerous if we want the European Union to survive.  In any case, we hope the Prime Minister would take the hint and the start indeed promoting Europe and its benefits to the public. As we have witnessed in the Leiden speech, there are enough good things to say: Dutch pragmatism, it was said, has put European integration back on track at its very beginning.

The Polish vision of the EU as having at its core the internal market underpinned by the four freedoms, especially freedom of movement of labour, was not new or controversial, but it needs repeating in the current context in the Netherlands. From this point of view, the movement of citizens between EU member states is not immigration, but an exercise of fundamental rights. These rights of course, stem from the core bargains at the heart of European integration, the establishing of the internal market. But also from enlargement and all the work done by the member states from central and Eastern Europe to comply with EU standards. The Polish view on this, we can safely say, is shared among the EU’s member states from Central and Eastern Europe. The moment of accession to the EU – 2004 for Poland and other Central European states, but also 2007 for Bulgaria and Romania – was seen as the end of history for post communist states, a return to freedom and ability to move around Europe, to  innovate and create new things. Freedom and independence are the ideals of United Europe which Poland saw as a return to Europe that they have always belonged to.

As Sikorski has also stressed before, the economic growth among a number of the new member states is also the best proof that enlargement was not the cause of economic crisis in Europe. In fact, Poland has been one of the few states in the EU that has not had a recession in the last 5 years. Still, to this very day, it is quite difficult to convince even my students in the classroom that the economic crisis had nothing to do with the accession by the less wealthy countries from the East. His call for solidarity in Europe was strengthened by his reminder that drawing new dividing lines in Europe might result in unexpected results: not a division of old and new Europe but one between growth and non growth Europe. Wise warning, worth the repetition.

Last but not least, a categorical statement from Sikorski regarding attempts to change the rules of free movement in Europe, ( and this, I think, includes Schengen): Poland will veto any attempt to challenge the fundamental four freedoms in the EU.

Disclaimer: This post is written in personal capacity and does not represent the official view of Leiden University and the Institute of Public Administration

Britain, Euroscepticism, Uncategorized

Friday links on Europe

A speech by Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski in Blenheim:

See here, with a link to the speech in pdf and here for the very insightful commentary and analysis in Economist’s Eastern Approaches. As usual, I am impressed. With the fact that despite being a diplomat he is actually saying something, that he is saying it at a time and place where his message may not have been that welcome and, last but not least, with the delightful irony of a  Polish politician with ‘a background of hawkish British Atlanticism’ quoting what he has learned from Marx in Oxford about false consciousness…

Also, reflections on Mario Monti’s talk in Florence, at the European University Institute: a nuanced report in Aidan Regan’s blog.

And finally, Neelie Kroes’ visit to Sofia and discussions on media freedom. Something of an anti-climax.


another warning from Polish minister Sikorski in the light of the ‘constraining dissensus’ on European integration

In a speech to Polish MPs in Warsaw on 29 March (via euobserver, link here), Polish Foreign Minister said the EU could unravel, dismantling common projects such as open markets and labour mobility and neglecting new initiatives such as the External Action Service. His warning was apparently of Poland’s fate if the EU disintegrated and the US abandoned its Atlantic orientation and NATO and turned to Asia. Quite clearly, other new(er) member states such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia or Bulgaria and Romania would fare even worse than Poland if such a scenario were to materialize. More importantly, however, why should we all take Sikorski’s warning seriously?

Rereading, with my students, Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks’s seminal British Journal of Political Science article of 2008, ‘A Post Functionalist theory of European Integration: From Permissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus’, I am struck by their precise formulation of what seems to be one of the key problems of European integration today: ‘Citizens care – passionately – about who exercises authority over them. The challenge for a theory of multi level governance is that the functional need for human cooperation rarely coincides with the territorial scope of community’ (2008: 2). The EU’s current set of responses to the crisis, for example the reform package for Greece put together by the IMF/ the Troika, illustrate this point very well: the functional need to resolve the crisis comes up against the lack of a sense of community on both sides – in this case in the North and South of Europe.

But as Hooghe and Marks also state in their article,  when individuals do not have the time and inclination to determine their response to European integration measures, they rely on cues to determine their response (2008:10) – cues provided by the media, by politicians and political parties. The EU has long ceased to be just a vehicle for economic integration, but is ‘a part of a system of multi-level governance which facilitates social interaction across national boundaries, increases immigration and undermines national sovereignty. …(2008:11).  Based on a broad range of studies, they argue that ‘the jurisdictional shape of Europe has been transformed, but the way in which citizens conceive their identities has not’ (12)…but, they further state that  the connection between national identity, cultural and economic insecurity and EU policy issues cannot be induced from experience, but has to be constructed politically, through priming, framing and cueing (2008:13).

Mr Sikorski, to get back to his speech, has been campaigning consistently in the last year or so to provide fellow politicians and citizens in Poland and other EU member states with reasons to consider the positive sides of European integration and the dangers of European disintegration. His speeches provide a cue for possible responses to the current insecurity in Europe by seeing national identity as reinforced and defended  in a broader European framework, rather than weakened.  In my view, it is a  perspective very much worth considering.

Central and Eastern Europe, Euro, the Netherlands

looking at the future Europe behind a veil of ignorance

Proposals to split the euro into northern and southern currency or push Greece out of the eurozone, as for example supported by Frits Bolkestein in recent interviews seem to assume implicitly that the Netherlands would always be among the richer and stronger economies of the EU. With respect to any of the EU’s member states, the assumption that it can predict what its place would be in a future divided Europe, is misguided. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski reminds us of this in a speech delivered in Berlin last Monday and reprinted in the Financial Times and in Tuesday’s NRC. His examples of economic growth amidst crisis in the EU are Poland (15,4 per cent over the last four years and no recession) and Slovakia. His reminder to Germany that it also has not always kept the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact may have been unwelcome, but it illustrates the same fact from recent history: no EU member state is immune against recession or structural problems. On the other side of this coin, not only Poland and Slovakia but other new(er) member states such as Lithuania are quietly progressing with reform and keeping their budgets healthy. In his opinion piece in the EU observer, Andreas Aslund praises Lithuania for carrying budgetary reform during the crisis without the help of the IMF, implementing a vigorous fiscal adjustment and achieving 6.6 per cent growth annualized growth rate in 2011 after a dramatic slump in GDP in 2009. Most remarkably, the Kubilius government has managed to continue Lithuania’s much praised programme of public administration reforms, initiating this year a functional review system for the administration. Such measures attest not only to prudent fiscal policy but also to a realisation that a capable and modern administration is not a luxury but necessary investment for a country that takes a long term view how to emerge from the crisis. Even Bulgaria, a member state for which no Dutch politician has a good word to say, has been praised by EU Budget Commissioner Lewandowski  in October this year for being on track observing financial discipline. “Bulgaria is improving in budget terms. It is within the debt limit and is decreasing the budget deficit. The economic forecast for Bulgaria is quite decent.” Lewandowski said further.

The point of these examples is not that Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lithuania or even Poland have become as rich as the Netherlands or will be any time soon. Their citizens still suffer from the crisis and from poverty and unemployment. These member states, however, have made serious and credible efforts to keep their budgets balanced despite the crisis, a fact which is completely overlooked in the Netherlands. These newer member states should receive at least some credit for not only not causing the current crisis in Europe, but for persevering in taking fiscal discipline seriously despite the harsh effects on their citizens, on the socially weak and pensioners. Slovak doctors went on strike today because of their low salaries, Bulgarian railway workers have been told by the minister of finance that there is no money to answer their demands.

The inability to keep a balanced budget is not a mysterious cultural trait then,  as claimed by Frist Bolkestein in his recent interview in AD newspaper,  something typical of the Southern EU member states, while only Northern EU member states are careful and prudent in their public spending.

No, the budgetary discipline of Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania and Bulgaria today it is a question of political will, lessons learned from previous crises, commitment to the eurozone and oversight by the European Commission and the IMF. All of this perfectly applicable to Greece or other EU member states faced with similar problems.

The even more important lesson seems to me to be that all of the EU’s member states should decide the future of the eurozone as if behind a veil of ignorance about their own future place in Europe. As Sikorski aptly commented, “To those who would like to divide Europe, I say: how about a natural division into growth-Europe and non-growth Europe? But be forewarned. Their shapes would not conform to stereotypes”.