One of my ongoing convictions about the worth of the EU is that its very presence, and the vague carrot of potential EU membership, can be a force for good in the lesser-developed states of the European fringe – following the example of the Council of Europe’s guidelines for a decently-run country, but cranking them up a notch.
Of course, it doesn’t always work (cf. the refusal of Belarus to get involved in either the Council of Europe or basic democracy, or the current Polish government’s apparent hatred of women and homosexuals) but, as a general rule, I reckon this EU carrot is one of the most positive contributions the organisation has made to the world.
But maybe not. Here are two examples of ways to react when the EU’s attention is focussed on you if you’re a struggling post-communist state, hoping either to tighten links with the EU or to be taken more seriously by other EU member states, both of which have cropped up in just the last couple of days:
- 1) Uzbekistan – arrest and prosecute journalists working for European news organisations just as an EU delegation arrives
- 2) Slovenia – convince opposition parties not to, erm… oppose government policy in case partisan squabbles make the country look bad in the eyes of the EU
It’s fairly safe to say that neither of these are quite the positive impact that the EU is supposed to have on countries aspiring to reach western European levels of development…
“Despite the stubborn Western habit of ignoring it, history records the fact that the Turkish republic has been a free, independent, secular, and mainly democratic state ever since Ataturk created it out of the ashes of the Ottoman empire in 1923. Great Britain aside, thatâ€™s a record very few European states can even approach… I still think the EU should say yes to Turkey, but developments in postmodern Europe â€” illustrated, most recently, by the responses of Britain and the EU to Iranâ€™s brazen Easter parade of British hostages â€” convince me that Turkey should say a polite but firm no to the EU.”
So now I’m confused. Is the EU still valid as an aspirational organisation or – now that it’s expanded to 27 and has member states with governments as nutty as Poland’s and economies as dodgy as Romania’s – has its aspirational value been all but used up? Considering that Turkey’s economy is doing better than those of member states Poland, Romania and Bulgaria (see also), and that human rights abuses are ignored even in leading western European member states (and that’s before we even raise the spectre of the EU’s rather pathetic official response to the extraordinary rendition question and – again – failure to tell Poland to abide by basic rules of civility and decency when it comes to minority groups that are supposedly a condition of its EU membership), is there any reason for the remaining non-EU member states to really aspire to membership any more? The economic benefits are suspect now that Romania and co are in the club, and the failure to punish any of the many member states who have been found to have violated EU-wide human rights laws by participating in extraordinary rendition seems to make the “civilising effect” of EU membership similarly worthless.
So, my fellow pro-EU types, why is this (deliberately pessimistic) take the wrong one? What benefits DOES the EU still have to offer – and CAN it still act as a force for good in the wider world, simply by existing, as I have usually always thought?