Minister Roche's Statement to Europe Asia Forum: Reuniting Europe: The Prospects and Challenges of Enlargement (Part I)
I am very grateful to be given this opportunity to address the sixth Europe Asia Forum. The Forum's twin objectives of promoting an exchange of ideas and to shaping partnership between the two continents suggests that this is an appropriate time and place for me to outline the context in which Europe is reuniting, and to detail – from an Irish perspective - some of the prospects and challenges presented by enlargement. The Forum's interesting programme is a tribute to the work of Horst Teltschik and Tommy Koh. I wish to commend them for it, and I encourage them to continue with it. It makes a very valuable contribution to the field in which I work as Minister for European Affairs.
The Forum is meeting here in Brussels – the seat of many of the European Union's institutions – on the eve of a truly historic event in the Union's magnificent history. In less than eight months time the Union will undergo its fifth and largest expansion, as we grow from 15 to 25 Member States. This enlargement is one that would have seemed impossible – even unimaginable – less than two decades ago. It will draw to an end the long and painful division of Europe.
And while this enlargement of the Union has taken on an air of happy inevitability since the Copenhagen European Council of December 2002, we should not allow this certainty to diminish the significance of the step we are about to take. A Europe is emerging at the outset of the 21st century that few Europeans would have dreamed of throughout the previous 2000 years of our history. The French philosopher, Victor Hugo, was one of those few, and he said in 1849: “A day would come when … all you nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and glorious individuality, will merge into a higher unity and found the European brotherhood”. That day has now come. And it should hold significance for all peoples who strive to balance diversity and unity as they manage relations in their regions.
Europe's most profound historical transformation since the fall of the Berlin Wall is happening before our eyes. While enlargement might not have the emotional and visual impact of that unforgettable day in November 1989, it will have enormously positive and far-reaching social and economic impacts on the people of Central and Eastern Europe. At last the artificial division of Europe is coming to an end. And it will be Ireland's distinct honour that this extraordinary development, which we enthusiastically support, will be brought to fruition during our Presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year. The fact that we, the most westerly country in the Union, will preside over this great embrace of the east is not only a piece of neat symbolic symmetry. More importantly, it also provides inescapable evidence of how the interests of all the Member States of the Union are mutual and intertwined.
The enlargement we are about to witness should be seen as a process and not as a once-off event. It has been underway for almost fifteen years already. In the ten accession countries, huge efforts have been made to put in place much of the legislation and reforms required for membership of the Union. Huge efforts, too, have been made in the current Member States to bring us to the point where we will create a Union of 500 million people. It is worth recalling that, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, six of the ten states that will join the Union next year did not exist. In many respects the progress made has been remarkable and the changes made have been transformational.
At the same time we should remember Robert Schuman's words at the launch of the European project in May 1950 that “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.” Many of the expected social and economic benefits of enlargement – for both the new and existing members - will come about gradually in the years ahead. Ireland's experience in the Union, while overwhelmingly positive, tells us that the progress associated with membership is not always smooth or pain free. In the first years, in particular, we had to face strong challenges, make uncomfortable adjustments, and overcome great difficulties. However, by taking the opportunities and harnessing the stimulus provided by membership – and by receiving strong support from our partners - we have over the past 30 years built a new Ireland that better reflects the needs and aspirations of a vibrant twenty-first century society.
It is also important to bear in mind that the enlargement process does not end on 1 May 2004. The Irish Presidency will pursue accession negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania based on the same principles that have guided the accession negotiations to date, with a view to a target date of 2007 for their accession. In addition, the Irish Presidency will monitor closely developments with Turkey, in advance of the key decision on opening negotiations to be taken in December 2004.
Enlargement – with the prospect of increasing the security and stability of Europe - is important and welcome on political grounds alone. Yet, it is doubly attractive in that it will create economic opportunities for all members of the Union. Each of the previous four expansions has resulted in increased foreign direct investment across the whole Union. I have every confidence that this one will produce a similar result. With a Union of 500 million people, we will be the largest single market in the world. And as trade and investment grows to serve this single market, it is envisaged that 300,000 new jobs will be created in existing Member States and 2 million in the accession countries. Confidence in the business sector is high as well. A global survey of more than 300 executives, conducted earlier this year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, showed that business people are overwhelmingly in favour of enlargement, believing that the overall business environment in the accession countries will improve; that the consumer markets of the accession countries will be more attractive; that cross-border trade will become even easier; and that public procurement practices will be simpler.
All this potential offered by enlargement leads to the important question of how we will manage economic and social development in the new Europe.
The challenges of a rapidly changing economic climate and escalating technological advances have prompted the European Union to engage in a process of internal economic, social and environmental renewal known as the Lisbon strategy. At the Lisbon Summit in 2000, the Union set itself the objective of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, capable of sustained economic growth with more and better jobs. Much has been achieved thus far, such as creating employment opportunities, opening up energy markets, creating a single sky, modernising competition policy, putting in place an integrated Europe-wide financial market and agreeing a Community patent.
Ireland's Presidency comes at a critical time for the Lisbon strategy as it nears its half-way point. This provides us with an opportunity, at the 2004 Spring European Council devoted to the strategy, to review the measurable differences that have come about as a result of this wide-ranging strategy. It is evident that we will face a number of challenges in seeking to maintain the momentum of the Lisbon agenda. The ambitious Lisbon goal was agreed at a time of rapid economic growth throughout Europe. We will need to intensify the pace of reform if we are to ensure that we can still implement demanding targets in a more difficult economic climate. Similarly, we will need to put supports in place to ensure that the pace of reform is maintained in an enlarged Europe.
Continuing the process of transforming the EU into the leading knowledge-based economy will be a priority of our Presidency. The reality is that in a climate of slow global economic performance, those possessing a competitive edge will succeed best. That is why we have already indicated to our EU partners that Ireland's EU Presidency in 2004 will include as a priority fostering competitiveness and eliminating barriers to the development of a supportive environment for business. We will champion the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises, highlight the need to complete the internal market for services, and move ahead with regulatory reform. We are conscious that successful regulatory reform, by easing the burden on business, will support stronger economic growth and deliver benefits in terms of job creation. We are equally seized of the need to tackle restrictive practices which choke the capacity of businesses to grow.
Expanding employment opportunities, including working on innovative solutions to the problems of structural unemployment, will be central to our Presidency. We welcome, in this regard, the work being undertaken at present by the European Employment Taskforce, under the chairmanship of former Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok.