Europe is in some ways the most accessible continent for an Indian. Our British connection has left many European associations; so the civilization is not entirely unfamiliar. After our hot and arid land, the greenness of the European continent offers a welcome change. There is such a rich cultural heritage; and so much variety packed in such a small area. The Schengen visa has made it easier to travel around continental EU. The integration of ten new countries into the EU may eventually extend the scope of the Schengen visa, and may let us go to such exotic places like Lake Balaton and Tirgu-Jiu. It is therefore welcome.
The queue stretches into the future. Ten countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the north-east, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia (which till eleven years ago were the single country Czechoslovakia neighbouring Germany), and Hungary and Slovenia further east, and two islands (one-and-and-half actually), Malta and the Greek part of Cyprus will join in a year; Bulgaria and Romania may be allowed to join in three years.Turkey is waiting outside the gates. And countries I shall come to are not even allowed to join the queue yet.
The European Union was an outgrowth of the Cold War. Well into the Seventies, non-communist governments on the western fringe of Europe felt threatened by the communist monolith that stretched from Warsaw to Vladivostock. Their military response was contained in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which created a joint army of the US, Canada and most countries of western Europe. But military strength must have economic power to sustain it. Creation of a common market, which enabled efficient enterprises to grow and squeeze out inefficient ones, was seen as the best way of developing economic muscle.
Individual countries had agendas which also drove towards union. France and Germany saw it as a way of abandoning centuries of enmity and jointly dominating western Europe, and of growing large enterprises to match the mighty American multinationals. France saw it as a way of preserving French agriculture at the cost of other member countries. Smaller countries saw it as a way of getting a government of rules that would protect them against bigger neighbours and give them a voice in the common government. Britain did not have obvious payoffs out of the European Union, and hence lagged in its enthusiasm.
The collapse of the Soviet Union removed the military reason for the existence of the EU; after that it had to drift apart or push forward. France and Germany decided to push it forward. Since tariffs and restrictions on labour movement had already been removed, it was difficult to see a way forward. But they thought of having a common currency, and the euro was created in 1998 to replace national currencies.
The end of the communist empire also led to the replacement of communist by non-communist governments, many of them elected by universal franchise in the European fashion. Russia was in turmoil; it came to an uneasy equilibrium between an authoritarian government and an oligarchic industry, and oscillated from crisis to crisis. It was hardly an ideal economic partner. So the ex-communist governments began to look for a closer relationship with, and eventually for membership of, the European Union. The admission of the ten new members is the first step in the process of their integration. It graphically illustrates the nature of governance in the European Union. Federal countries usually have a constitution; both the US and India, for instance, were born with one. Some give more powers to the states. The US, as its name suggests, is the United States of America; it is the states that are supposed to have passed on some of their sovereignty to the federal government. Others, like Indias, give more power to the centre. But the EU is a federation in the making. The problems it faces are intensely political ones: for instance, which countries to admit into the Union. But if they were resolved politically, France and Germany would steamroller everyone into accepting what they wanted. Relationships would get strained, and inconsistencies would emerge.
So the EU has developed a process which begins politically but ends up in law. The commissioners that is, the ambassadors of the countries to the Union make bargains amongst themselves; when they cannot agree, or when the questions are big enough, the prime ministers of the countries get together and bargain. But by their side are verbally skilled bureaucrats that turn all the opportunistic, ad hoc bargains into rules. Thus in 1993, the EU heads of state met in Copenhagen. They agreed more or less on whom to admit and whom not to, whom to admit quickly and whom to keep waiting. But then their aides translated those preferences into what are now known as Copenhagen rules, to wit, that to qualify countries must have: existence of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy; rule of law, respect for and protection of human rights and minorities; existence of a functioning market economy; capacity to cope with market forces and competitive pressures within the Union; ability to take on the obligations of membership, including economic and monetary union.
The governments of interested countries have to create these conditions, and then try and convince the European Commission that they have qualified. They have first to adopt the laws of the European Union, which by now run into 80,000 pages. Then they have to ask EU for technical assistance to make them EU-compatible. Then they have to seal their borders to foreigners, for which too the EU gives them assistance. The results of this tortuous process are visible in the map. There is a little hole in the map of the EU between Latvia and Poland. That is Koenigsberg, renamed Kaliningrad. It belonged to the Hansa League of maritime states in the seventeenth century, and later was a major port of imperial Germany. In punishment for its defeat, Germany was pushed westwards after World War II. Koenigsberg and its environments were taken by the Soviet Union, and remain a Russian enclave. Russia, of course, has no chance of getting into the EU, being too big and self-willed; but three of its western neighbours Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova are also excluded. And then there is a string of countries between Austria and Greece that has been left out Serbia (also known as Yugoslavia although all the Slavs other than Serbs have left it), Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Macedonia (which Greece accuses of having usurped its name). So even ten years from now, EU will present a rather moth-eaten visage.
But this irregular geographical shape will have uniform standards of democracy, rule of law and market economy. That sounds very attractive; maybe India should apply to join. Its turn will come in 2034. We had better do all our economic growth by then; for the EU is not known for stimulating any member economy. American economists look down on EU for its anaemic economic performance; European economists look down on the US for its toleration of extreme inequality and deprivation. But our growth rate is over twice that of either the US or EU. Let us emulate the political virtues of both, but from outside.