Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

20 years after the Berlin Wall: Europe undivided?

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A bit off piste here, but it’s a personal interest of mine, so here we go.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent unification of Germany – you can find much information from the usual news media sources but a special nod to the coverage in The Guardian, where amongst other things you can read the ever-excellent Timothy Garton Ash, and to Transitions Online’s specific 20-year anniversary portal.

The European Parliament is also holding a special event too, with a formal sitting involving 89 people born in November 1989 discussing what Europe means to them. (Incidentally, I note from the perspective of what follows here that all 89 are from current, as opposed to prospective, EU members – an opportunity missed there, I feel.)

It’s to be hoped that they spend some time discussing the future, for let’s not kid ourselves that this is a unified Europe:

1. large parts of south-east Europe – most of which we used to call Yugoslavia – remain outside the EU. Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 and Croatia is likely join in 2010 now that the Lisbon Treaty has been approved – but Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia i Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania all remain outside, some with evidently better chances of (eventual) accession than others. It would be nonsense to pretend that there is an invisible wall dividing these states from the rest of the EU, as much as it would be nonsense to pretend that the EU and Europe are synonymous terms. Serious mistakes have been made on all sides, both in the economic and political arenas, during the last twenty years but the will on the one side to join the EU, and the lack of appetite for them to do so on the other, remains a palpable reminder of the divisions that remain on the continent.

2. outside this part of south-east Europe, other countries with a perspective on the EU exist – both to the south and to the east. Turkey first applied to join the EU in 1960 and yet there remains ambivalence, on both sides; others exist (Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia… ) with differing degrees of desire to access the EU but which remain within Moscow’s purview. It’s impossible to say whether the war between Russia and Georgia last year over the territory of South Ossetia would or would not have happened had Georgia been in the EU at that point. Had it still had happened in that scenario, the EU would have been in direct confrontation with Russia. So, some aspects of the iron curtain remain – on the basis of a line drawn a little further to the east – and it is clear that the European Union needs to sort out its relationship with Russia, as well as with countries to the other side of that line. This is clearly a job for the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – and for the new President of the EU, whoever that might be.

3. central and eastern European countries has been hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis – most of them members of the EU. The crisis lingers to a greater or lesser extent in Latvia, Romania, Poland and elsewhere but most of all in Hungary. There is no doubt some sort of role in re-flotation for the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development but its overall input is likely to be small. Countries in central and eastern Europe are likely to struggle with the aftermath of these problems for years – like the UK, Ireland and Spain, evidently – but frequently on the basis of economies that, as a result of the short history since 1989, are evidently less stable and less secure and, as a result, less able to withstand such economic shocks.

Much to ponder. And much to hope that the warnings from many sides of the dangers of complacency about the divisions that remain across Europe do not become realised.


Written by Calvin

09/11/2009 at 12:29 pm

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