Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Eastern Europe joins the EU

The EU continues to grow – by 2004 it had expanded to 25 member states, the new entrants coming mainly from the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. In 2007 the number increase to 27 with the accession of Rumania and Bulgaria. Enlargement on this scale presented Britain with some new difficulties, in addition to the already existing ones. The standard of living of the new entrant countries was significantly lower than that enjoyed by most of the current members including Britain, who were faced with having to foot the bill for the necessary regeneration and reconstruction of the obsolete and inefficient former Communist infrastructure and industries. In this respect it should be remembered that German re-unification placed considerable pressures on the West German economy from which it took a long time to recover. However, the level of investment needed to bring these East European countries up to the standard of current members is on an altogether larger scale and could well take decades to implement at immense cost.

More serious than this though is the unrestricted right that citizens of the new member states have to enter Britain. If large numbers of East Europeans exercise this right, and all the evidence suggests that they are continuing to do so, the strain placed on housing and public facilities such as the NHS and schools is likely to be considerable, particularly in London and the southeast where most immigrants tend to settle. Under transitional arrangements, most EU countries kept firm controls on workers coming from Eastern Europe; in contrast Britain under New Labour provided them with immediate rights of residence, employment and access to many welfare provisions. In the longer term, it is highly probable that Turkey’s application for membership will be successful, (supported by all major British political parties) bringing with it the automatic right for its large Muslim population to enter the more prosperous Western European countries.

It has to be recognised that the large increase in membership makes it necessary, if the EU is to function effectively, to centralize its decision making process much more than in the past. The traditional structure and organisational arrangements are much too unwieldy, as well as being unnecessarily time consuming, for both ministers and officials. An example was the horse trading took place over Britain’s 'rebate' from the EU. This resulted in the unedifying spectacle of the Prime Minister scuttling around small East European countries, such as Estonia and Slovenia, in a forlorn attempt to persuade them to support the British position. Many people might think that the Prime Minister’s time would be better spent addressing some of the more pressing issues back at home. Unfortunately, reform to realistically address these kinds of difficulties can only take place by transferring significantly more powers away from national governments.

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