1989–2009: Taking Stock of East West EUnification

The conference took place at the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center and was organized by the Helmut Kohl Institute for European Studies, the Center for German Studies and the Center for Austrian Studies of the European Forum at the Hebrew University in cooperation with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The multi-disciplinary international conference aimed at taking stock of many of the changes and transformations which have occurred and are still occurring in different arenas of the EU since the dramatic moment of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It also aimed at gaining more understanding about the internal and external implications of the eastern enlargement on the EU integration process.

Combining their knowledge in political science, policy studies, law, economy, sociology, history, and art disciplines, the lecturers from all around the EU and Israel presented multi-facetted pictures of the EU from different angles and distinctive perspectives. Twenty years after the breaking of barriers, which eventually brought about the unification of Eastern and Western Europe, this conference has indeed stressed that the EU is still facing many internal and external challenges. Some would call them failures, but we prefer to call them by a more optimistic word – challenges. We need more time to evaluate whether those are indeed failures that the EU has not been able to address or perhaps that we are dealing with prolonged “transition periods”. We also think that the EU is sometimes blamed for failures, which it does not have the means (be it financial, administrative or technical) or the prerogatives to address.

As the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said in a speech on Europe to members of her conservative Christian Democrat party (CDU) in Berlin, the EU needs to “consolidate” before enlarging any further. “No one is well served in a Europe that can’t keep up with integration and takes on too many new members too quickly.” (Words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Commenting on western Balkan countries. ELITSA VUCHEVA “EU must ‛consolidate’ before further enlargement, Merkel says,” EUObserver, 17 March 2009.

A recent research revealed that five years after the fifth biggest enlargement, the EU’s decision-making process had not been harmed, at least not in figures. The EU at 27 member states adopted as many decisions as it did when it was composed of 15 western member states. At least in quantity there is no decrease in decision making, as some pessimists had forewarned. This is an optimistic message.But the next phase of the research should carefully examine the quality of those decisions. Has – and to what extent – the common denominator been lowered? Has indeed the focus of attention been shifted, and where to? It would be worth to map this. But we would not like to concentrate only on such institutional aspects.

There are many challenges to pick from and in our view one should be dealt with in particular. It is one of the most daring challenges the EU has been addressing and will have to address for many years to come: the lack of European “demos”, not in the sense of a nationhood building, but even in the sense of civic identification with the EU’s goals – some sense of pride in the EU achievements. This should be achieved at the level of the ordinary European citizen, and also at the level of some senior governmental ministers.

As we heard throughout the conference this is a troubling aspect that is not developed enough in the EU and it is unclear to what extent the different main players in the integration process are interested to develop. Though what we are referring to is not an identity which would replace the national one, but would come in addition to it, as another layer of identity. With multi-level governance, multi-level identity is also required.

Internally, the challenge of transformation into stable democratic rule for each of the ten new Central and Eastern European Countries has been accomplished. But as Prof. Schimmelfennig pointed out, the EU was not the main agent of democratization in the critical phase of 1989–1991. This fulfilled the first condition of accession maturity in the level of democracy. Prof. Tibor Palankai presented the next phase of EU “membership maturity” – the capacity to take advantage of EU economic policies. Four of the new member states joined the sphere of Euro currency and completed a higher level of membership maturity, while eight others will have to struggle to achieve that (even more today with the current economic crisis). Nine new member states joined Schengen, achieving a higher level of personal integration of free movement, removing the last brick of harsh past communist reality of dividing borders between Eastern and Western Europe.

But Prof. Palankai actually concluded his lecture in a not so optimistic note: EU integration economic gains are hardly felt by the majority of the Europeans, and that explains the growing negative attitudes and diminishing support for EU integration. Prof. Mitchell Orenstein demonstrated this point even further, and Prof. Shlomo Avineri also pointed to the losers of EUnification. This is another daring challenge the EU should face in the new member states in order to raise support and identification with the EU and the integration process.

But this lack of EUropean identity is a wide phenomenon, common within the veteran member states as well. As the lecture by Dr. Martin Koopman showed, political will, both on the French and the German sides, is also a necessary and perhaps even essential component, not to the “natural” advancement of the integration process, but to operate great leaps forwards such as the Maastricht Treaty (which gave base to the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA).

As Prof. Zielonka said, enlargements can be costly to the deepening of the integration process. The first enlargement of the EU to the UK is such an example. The opt-outs champions, the UK and Denmark (as well as Ireland), belong to this enlargement. They joined the EC when it was not even a common market, and they already envisioned a mere free trade union.

In many respects, the EU is building a new “Tower of Babel”, but manages to do so while speaking dozens of languages, not one or six as Dr. Jan Fidermuc suggested it should. This is actually a good example to the EU’s motto “unity in diversity”. To have only few official EU languages may bring a more efficient EU but not an inclusive one, and we think that the cost of disenfranchisement should not be calculated only in economic figures, but in terms of EU identity and loyalty as well.

One language will not bring a united sense of EU community, on the contrary. And moreover, the “Brussels” language of acronyms is troubling enough with the gap it creates in the understanding of the Brussels’ jargon between the ordinary citizen and the European bureaucrats.

As we heard From Ettore Deodato, SMS has become the “common language” of young Europeans. This is the generation to which the EU has difficulties conveying the advantages of the integration project. Moreover, the EU is quite clearly failing is the creation of a true “tower of Babel” kind of demos, the “we-feeling” which raises loyalty, even if “only” on the civic and not cultural level.

We begun the conference with asking how can more unity live side by side with preserving diversity? Cultural diversity should be maintained and even encouraged. It is one of the “natural advantages” the EU has to offer, but unity is needed in many other fields.

Prof. Kunova stressed that the unification of Europe by EU law is a positive continuation of the first European unification by Roman law. But this is a peaceful legal Eunification process on paper which is not enough.

As Prof. Zielonka said, the EU integration project is not about conquering new territories. It is about conquering new public policies spheres. In some respects enlargement helps to widen the integration process to more policy fields. Lior Herman showed us how the new member states can “breathe life” and be leading players in new common market trade in services, such as healthcare, promoting a de-jure integration policy field into a de-facto growing reality. Once more it demonstrates the functional aspect of integration – that in spite of the lack of political will, integration can advance and have a spill-over effect. In that respect, widening can bring more horizontal deepening, but it does not build common civic identity and feelings of solidarity.

Much more time will be needed to “conquer” the identity of the EU citizens. The integration process represents a backlash at the notion of nationhood that was to blame for causing WWII. Despite that, for the past five or six decades, nations and national myths have remained at the very centre of identity building, as Evgeny Finkel’s presentation demonstrated. The European integration process, which brought peace and prosperity to citizens of Western and then Eastern Europe, has not yet been able to foster their loyalty. This is the missing element in the integration process.

There is no doubt that protection of the environment can become a major part of a person’s identity and self-definition, as Mark Volovichi and Michal Goren claimed. The question is how much “European” can such identity be? The question arises: Which myth or ideology can the EU adopt for building its civic identity and feelings of loyalty?

Democratization is also not unique to the EU, and as Prof. Schimmelfennig convincingly established, the EU is not even the central agent of democratization it was thought to be in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which entered the EU.

If we can indeed learn something from the confusing motto of “unity in diversity” it is that the EU common identity should not – even cannot, be founded on a cultural base but instead needs to find a common civic meeting-ground. In that respect the collapse of the USSR caused the loss of the unifying “other” opposite the EU, but it still can be replaced by the not so distant fascist past of Europe or by Russia, which can serve (and is still serving) as EUrope’s “other”. The problem is that the history of the 20th Century is too far away from the minds and hearts of the young generation of Kantian Europe.

Educational exchange programs in the EU are one tool to encourage an “ever closer union”. Erasmus and Tempus are very good agents of “kosher slaughter” of stereotypes in neighboring EU countries, but it is too weak a vehicle for promoting some pro-EU integration attitudes among its participants. The young generation in the EU that is leaving in the Kantian world which the founding fathers of the EU had carefully built, are more skeptical of the integration process. This is not such a positive prospect for future European integration.

The EU has been a great success story, as Paul Landvai said, but it is a myth that is not told enough to the children of EUrope. Such unifying vision is missing, instead the thrilling processes that begun in 1989 on the Eastern parts of Europe brought back fault lines to the EU, as Ambassador Emil Brix has stressed. We are sorry that the final message of this conference is less optimistic than we would have liked it to be. To borrow from Mr. Paul Lendvai, we hope we have not only gained more knowledge, but that we gained more understanding about the internal and external implications of the eastern enlargement on the EU integration process.

Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu