THE ENLARGEMENT of the European Union has long-term benefits that far outweigh the current short-term teething problems reflected in recent referendums in France and Holland, says António Vitorino, a member of the Socialist Party (PS), former Minister of Defence and EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs.
Addressing a group of Portuguese, German and Austrian businessmen at the Hotel Sheraton in Lisbon last week, the international affairs expert believed that, although the enlargement was never going to be popular, it would eventually bring enormous economic, political and social advantages, reports The Resident’s journalist, Chris Graeme.
Vitorino said that the new, fledgeling Eastern European democracies had reformed their judiciaries and created genuine democratic institutions, a reality that was unthinkable in the 80s. With a more united Europe, peace and stability are far more guaranteed, thus avoiding the kind of social, economic and political crises that had dogged Europe from medieval times to the end of World War II.
Giving the example of the Balkan crisis, when the former Yugoslavia disintegrated following the death of Marshall Tito, Vitorino demonstrated, through the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts, the horrors that a lack of political unity and economic crisis could unleash in the heart of the continent.
Vitorino commented: “Within Europe, we are faced with a loss of the competitive edge, a lowering in educational standards and excellence, and less available investment in the public sectors, leading to uncertainty over the future of our postwar welfare systems.”
In both Europe and the US, there are fewer patents being registered in recent years, reflecting a crisis in innovation and technological development. “It is clear that the EU is not producing the results that we had grown accustomed to in the past,” he said.
Another issue was that there was not just one political, social and economic model in Europe, but various models. This was particularly stark in the Social Security models and values in the different European countries, leading to a great margin of variation.
“The Social Security system needs revising and the technological agenda set out in Lisbon in 2000 created a base for reforms, modernisation and increased innovative competitiveness that must go ahead,” he warned.
At the centre of this was European political and financial cohesion, competitiveness, training, improved education, technological innovation, and the creation of new centres of excellence. This was equally true of the financial and public accounting sectors as it was on the social, education and welfare fronts. “The EU budgetary and financial systems must be fully integrated,” he argued adding that the UK’s presidency of the EU should work hard to reach financial and trading agreements.
Turning to Portugal, he said it was vital for the government to step up and push forward economic, judicial and social reform to create a clear path for modernity. He said the 2000 Lisbon Accords, in as far as they impacted on Portugal, depended on a fast pace of national reforms to reach international EU objectives. “Large public works, like the airport at Ota and the TGV, will not sort out Portugal’s fundamental problems or fill its coffers in the long term – only institutional reform and modernisation will do that,” he said.
He criticised a lack of education and clear communication from leaders in what the EU enlargement was all about, although he said that the public in France has had all the facts, figures and information made available.
“The EU future for now lies in strong consensual leadership and example set by the Franco-German-Anglo axis,” he stressed. “We need to have a tripartite solution, although co-operation from these three countries will not be sufficient alone. The current crisis has, in part, been provoked by the lack of agreement between the three on economic reform,” he said.
Finally, on the issue of terrorism, he said it was a reality that we had to live with for the foreseeable future, but terrorists would not be allowed to alter our democratic way of life, while adding that public co-operation and vigilance with the authorities was vital.