The European Summit in Copenhagen: a "historic step forward" or a recipe for greater divisions?

On December13-15 the European Union summit was held in Copenhagen. On the agenda was the enlargement of the EU to the East and Turkey’s application for membership. Marie Frederiksen in Copenhagen looks at the contradictions that will emerge from the enlargement of the EU. On the basis of the developing crisis of world capitalism the future for a more integrated Europe looks bleak.

On December13-15 the European Union summit was held in Copenhagen. On the agenda was the enlargement of the EU to the East. They also discussed Turkey’s application for membership.

Ten new countries to join the EU

The result of the summit was to ratify (as the Danish government and the EU top officials had wanted) the admission of the Eastern European countries of Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary, together with Malta and Cyprus. These latter two countries may be included by May 1, 2004. At the same time, there are ongoing negotiations with Bulgaria and Rumania that may be admitted by 2007.

Agreement was finally achieved after Poland was promised an extra 1.2 billion euros advance plus a further 108 million euro for improving security on its external borders, and after the Czech Republic was promised a 100 million euro in advance.

The central matter of dispute has been the European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP). The new member countries have only been promised in the first period of their membership around a quarter of the agricultural support that the rest of the EU farmers are getting. This is in spite the fact that most of the farms in the new member countries are less efficient and have less developed techniques than those in the rest of the Union, and that a larger part of the population in these countries is in fact made up of farmers. If the farmers in the countries that are to join are forced to compete on the same conditions as the rest of the EU farmers, this will probably mean that a lot of them will go bankrupt. These ten countries are already very poor; all their economies put together are smaller than the economy of Holland!

The worst possible moment

One could say that the admission of these countries comes at the worst possible moment. The European economy, with Germany in the lead, is entering a crisis, together with the rest of the world. There is no room in the European economy, where Germany pays a large part of the bill, for help and support to be given to these new countries, whose economies risk being hit very hard. So why are the European leaders so happy?

The truth is that behind their empty phrases about "a historic step forward", "the peace project" and "a united Europe", are hidden big political and economic interests. Germany, for as long as it has existed, has had an interest in Eastern Europe.

On the one hand there are political reasons for an inclusion of Eastern Europe into the EU. This will spread capitalism on a higher level towards the east, and this will widen the gap between central Europe and "the eastern enemy".

On the other hand there are the economic reasons. The inclusion of Eastern Europe will expand the "common market", which will give the German (and other European) capitalists a chance to expand into these markets, and at the same time provide with easily accessible cheap labour. However, the fact that many of the Eastern European capitalists will not be able to stand up to this competition puts a question mark on whether the enlargement of the EU will provide higher economic growth for these new countries.

At the same time the discussion around the question of the enlargement of the EU has served to underline the big divisions that exist between the larger states of the European Union (and their capitalists). Once again we have seen Germany and France disagreeing. The French feared (and they are right) that the addition of a lot of East European farmers would mean lower agricultural subsidies in the long run for everyone, and this will severely affect the French farmers.

A divided Cyprus and… maybe Turkey

Cyprus was part of the ten countries up for membership of the EU, together with the Eastern European countries, at this summit. But in spite of the attempt from top leaders all over the world to solve this old conflict of a divided Cyprus, they didn’t succeed. Formally Cyprus was accepted "undivided", but in practice only the Greek part of Cyprus was admitted. It shows the bourgeoisie’s complete inability to solve any of the regional conflicts that exist all over the world.

At the same time, the Turkish leaders were very keen on getting a promise of admission to the European union at some point in the future, which they eventually got. The summit decided that if Turkey carries out reforms, their admission would be reconsidered in 2004, when a final date for membership will be given.

Turkey is a very important piece in a strategic puzzle, because it is the doorway from Europe to the Middle East and Asia. If the European Union can keep Turkey on its side, it would be a good base from which the West could strengthen its grip over the Middle East. As an example of the importance of this factor, we saw Bush trying very hard to convince the European Union to accept Turkey as a member.

But Turkey is not just of strategic importance. It is also a big economy, with a strong working class with proud traditions for struggle. At the same time it is an economy that collapsed a few years ago, in the wave of the economic crash in South East Asia in 1997, which has led to great political instability. An increase in the class struggle in Turkey will have a great impact on Greece and Southern Europe, but also on the rest of the continent. By getting Turkey under its control, the European Union hopes to maintain political stability in the country, and to hold back the Turkish working class.

Resistance to allowing Turkey to join immediately is being portrayed, on the one hand, as "Islamic Turkey" against "Christian Europe", and on the other hand as a question of democracy. But democracy is not the key issue for capitalists. It is merely a cheaper and less destabilising manner of maintaining their rule. In the past they had no problems with Turkey’s military regimes, as long as these guaranteed their interests. European leaders for many years have overlooked the fact that, more or less in silence, a whole people (the Kurdish minority) have been oppressed and that political activity has been severely restricted, and that even the most basic democratic rights have not been guaranteed.

The few reforms that have taken place have not changed the situation in any meaningful way. But many Turkish people are still clinging to the hope that membership of the European Union will mean a stable economy and democracy. The resistance among the top officials and politicians of the European Union to accepting Turkey as a member in the short term is more to do with their fears that there may be another economic collapse and that the situation may become explosive.

Expansion prepares future divisions

The agreements reached at this summit were portrayed in all the Danish media as representing an historical step forward. But in the future they may prove to be the source of growing tensions within the EU, and in the long run they may go down in history as a historical step towards the breakdown of the European Union. As the economic situation is worsening, the contradictions inside the European Union are becoming sharper and the class struggle in every European country is becoming more intense.

Before the ten new countries formally join the peoples of these have to vote and the result is far from guaranteed. Large parts of the Eastern European workers and farmers are beginning to realise that capitalism no longer leads to progress, but instead to unemployment, pressures at work and worsening conditions. As these contradictions increase, the pressure from being members of the EU will increase. The so-called "convergence criteria" of the monetary union, of only allowing small budget deficits and maintaining fixed currency exchange rates will increase the pressures. This may mean that governments all over Europe will be forced to break the criteria. On this basis the entire foundations upon which rests the European Union will fall apart.

Obviously the step has now been taken towards a larger EU, but not necessarily to a more integrated one. It will most likely lead to a more divided Europe. The only thing that might save the project for a bigger and more integrated European Union would be an economic recovery of capitalism on a world scale, but that doesn’t seem to be around the corner.

Is "NO" a solution?

As Marxists we naturally struggle against the European Union. Not because it takes away the "sovereignty" of the individual member states, but because it is a capitalist institution. The European Union is a reflection of an important aspect of the state of capitalism today. The economy has outgrown the narrow boundaries of the nation state. The huge corporations and the national states need larger markets than their own limited national markets. This shows one of the basic contradictions of capitalism: so-called free competition is whittled away by the process of monopolisation of capital.

However, whether the European Union breaks up or not, whether the Eastern European countries vote NO, or whether Denmark withdraws, Europe still remains capitalist, and the European working class will face the same problems, with an EU or without one. The solution is not to be found in a capitalist Europe without the European Union, but in the continued struggle against the European Union and for a Socialist Europe. Only then will we have a genuinely United Europe and a united world, but they would have to be a Socialist Europe and a Socialist World!