Sunday, May 29, 2005

The EU, The French, and the New Europe

What will the French “Non” to the EU Constitution mean for EU-hopefuls?

I have just returned from a week and a half in Moldova and Romania. Romania is supposed to accede to the EU in 2007 or soon thereafter. What strikes me, though, is how many Romanians seems skeptical of European integration. There was, of course, the famous quip by Chirac that Romania and other members of the “New Europe” seeking EU accession missed an opportunity to shut up and keep quiet rather than support the U.S. on Iraq. That didn’t go over well.

But, impolitic French sniping aside, there is a deeper structural reason for the skepticism of Romanians. Romania has been embroiled in a dispute with the European Commission over the procedures for foreign adoptions for Romanian children. (See this BBC report and this Southeast European Times report.) Baroness Emma Nicholson, the EU’s Rapporteur for Romania, wrote a scathing report on the process of foreign adoptions in Romania that caused the European Commission to demand a ban of such adoptions until reforms were made, if Romania hoped to gain eventual entrance to the EU.

But for the completion of the process of certain adoptions that were already “in the pipeline” to Italian families, this moratorium essentially halted foreign adoptions in whatever stage they were in. The U.S. Congress, in particular, was incensed that various people who were waiting for their adoptive children were no put into limbo. The EU-required moratorium lasted four years.

While Baroness Nicholson’s report had focused on corruption in the adoption system, Romanians saw a different problem. They don’t deny that there were problems in the adoptions system; what they didn’t like was that the EU could force them to ban all foreign adoptions on the basis of one report. Moreover, they didn’t think foreign adoptions was something that the EU Commission should have much say over. Reform the adoption system, yes; but Romania should be able to decide how.

Romanians I met seemed wary of the EU’s supranational aspirations. One person I spoke to talked about how Romania may have cultural ties to France, but in politics young Romanians are much more oriented towards Washington and London. They are Atlanticists who, by accident of geography, happen to be on the shore of the Black Sea.

Some Romanians count joining NATO as the second most significant event in their country’s history, after the 1918 unification of Romania and Transylvania (an event that my wife’s relatives, who are Transylvanian Hungarians, see in a less enthusiastic light). They love President Clinton for getting the ball rolling and President Bush for his welcoming Romania into NATO and the Administration’s view of the “New Europe.”

How Romanians and other nations queing up for accession react to the EU Constitution suddenly losing the wind from its sails will be interesting and complex. Note that the most vocal reason for the French “No” vote was that the EU Constitution was too neo-liberal, that is, too much like the economic models of Anglo-Saxon countries. On the other hand, Romanians I spoke to about this expected a “No” vote because the Constitution was too supranational. Go figure.

As with many electoral wins, the vote was probably comprised of different people being against the Constitution for different (and sometimes contradictory) reasons. If this leads to a less supranational EU, it may actually result in and EU that is more inviting to Romania and other members of the New Europe. If it makes the French and the Germans less enthusiastic about expansion until they can deepen EU, then accession becomes more difficult for Romania and Bulgaria (not to mention Turkey).

In any case, I think things are about to get very interesting in the Old World.


Anonymous Patrick said...

It is certainly true that the following ideas do not appear to exist at all in Brussels:
- accountability
- restraint
- proper division of power(s)
As your example indicates very clearly.

5/30/2005 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Rich S. said...

Welcome back, Professor. I'd definitely like to hear more about the Moldova trip.

Regarding the EU constitution, I've been following its progress closely, and even downloaded a full PDF copy of this incomprehensible document. First, on a humorous note, one can only imagine what a "conlaw" casebook would look like in the EU after a few years -- what with the nebulous plethora of rights -- right to decent housing, right to job training, etc., etc.

But more fundamentally, the no vote -- followed quickly I predict by a Netherlands thumbs-down on Wed. -- is, I believe, pushback against the technocrat elites (personified to a t by Jacques Chirac), who after balloning the EU size without consulting the people have been ramming an entire constitution down their throats in many countries without any referendums. Of the nine countries who previously ratified either no country, or perhaps one (don't remember offhand), held a referendum I think.

With France's economy on the skids, large unemployment, a massive unassimiliated and hostile immigrant population, a Euro currency that is threatening to ruin countries (Italy's economy comes to mind) with a one-size fits all monetary policy, an inability to honestly confront the demographic implosion that will topple the socialist welfare state within a few years, and in the face of all this the proposal of a lofty constitution to deal away even more cards in the sovereignty deck to an unelected foreign minister and "permanent" EU president has rightfully I believe prodded the French people to cry "Non!"

Now whether this truly gets the EU and national governments to do any sort of meaningful reform remains to be seen -- but once again I'm glad my family fled Europe post WWII for the U.S. Good-bye Europe, it was nice to know ya! ;-)

Rich Santalesa

5/30/2005 11:00 AM  
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