Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional
Conference: European Strategies for Promoting Democracy in Postcommunist
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is once again a real pleasure for me to come to Vienna in a moment when we all have confidence that Austria will contribute in a major way to putting the European Union back on the path to deeper integration, after the setbacks of the last year.
I am here before you as somebody who has still fresh memories of those years when Poland responded positively to the conditionality offered by the Union in the process of European integration. But I am also a representative of the institution that offers conditionality to help build democracy.
And, yes, I would like to share a message with you that in a long process of democracy building, of waking up a society, of opening people’s to hearts and minds to local democracy, conditionality can play a major role in ensuring the irreversibility of a democratic change.
Let me also say that it does not require a deep study to state that the integration of third countries in Europe with the European Union has been one of the most successful policies, which has been and is still being delivered at a very small price to the Union. The gains which Europe has achieved through this policy cannot be expressed in EURO. They consist of the democratisation, stabilisation and peace in a large part of the European continent and the ending of the Iron-Curtain-divide in Europe.
This sounds very banal, but I think it is important to emphasize it time and time again. With all the setbacks we have had, the problems with the Constitutional Treaty, disputes about the Iraq war and the rather unseemly fight over the financial framework, we tend to forget the contribution of the Union to democracy, peace, justice and freedom in Europe.
Of course sceptics will say that all these changes would have happened anyway – the countries of Central and Eastern Europe freed themselves from Communism, chose democracy because it is the best system and after 40 years of central planning were bound to move quickly towards the market economy. There is of course a lot of truth in this but it overlooks the overwhelmingly positive influence of the European Union in stabilising these new democracies, ensuring that they did not descend into political or economic chaos and making the grand change irreversible.
As a member of four post-1989 Polish Governments, and as Europe Minister in two of them, I can assure you that on its way to democracy Poland benefited in a crucial way from gradual integration into the Union. With the Cooperation Agreement followed by the Europe Agreement, we decided to bind our own policy-making hands by agreeing to implement significant parts of the acquis communautaire and to liberalise trade. But in doing so we also confirmed the values of the Union as our own. The sharing of values was fostered by the institutional arrangements associated with these agreements but also through the opening up of Community programmes to our citizens, particularly to young Poles. The importance of educational exchanges and other programmes, which helped our citizens in the early days of the reforms to travel to Member States and mix with young people there, cannot be overestimated.
Of course many of my compatriots, and to be honest sometimes I myself, resented the conditionality reflected in the Copenhagen conditions applied by the Union. The Copenhagen conditions have guided every step of the integration of third countries in Europe. Over the years, the Copenhagen criteria themselves have been added to as the Union learnt more about the problems of democratic and economic transition. The Madrid European Council in 1995 added conditions on institutional reform while the rapid development of policy in the area of justice and home affairs meant additional burdens being placed on countries wishing to integrate with the Union.
I would like to underline the essential role of Community conditionality in the triumph of democracy and the market economy in most of our Continent. Some of you will no doubt smile and put this opinion down to my transfer from national politician to European Commissioner, but I would plead, that I, and many of my compatriots realised long before accession the importance of adopting the values of the Union together with institutional best practice and the bases of market economy regulation. Poland did not suddenly join the Union, as it seemed to many citizens of the old Member States; we prepared for well over a decade, gradually implementing the acquis and establishing the necessary institutions to make our integration really successful. But this process benefited in a crucial way from the conditionality and the monitoring of conditions by the Union.
Economic conditionality was important in persuading governments to restructure and privatise state companies and to apply rigorous competition policy. But it was political conditionality of course which was crucial. Although a somewhat dangerous weapon, we saw this applied in Slovakia and we are seeing it applied today in the western Balkans. Political conditionality is vital to ensure that our democratic values are shared throughout the Continent. Undemocratic and cruel regimes not only endanger the lives of people in those countries but also our own democratic systems.
The experience of the new member states of the Union has of course been a complete success. Democratic processes are deeply entrenched and the market economy has prospered so well that some of the old member states appear to be rather nervous. The integration of the central and eastern European democracies has in my view not led to any significant reduction in the effectiveness of the Union, in spite of the problems with the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty. Our problems in the Union have been more to do with inadequate communication with the citizens and a reluctance to undertake thorough-going reforms of the economy than with the integration of third-countries. One could well argue that this integration has opened up new opportunities and stimulated long-overdue economic reform.
Today, future membership concerns above all the countries of south-eastern Europe. We can already clearly see the impact of the promise of accession on the stability of the western Balkans. Not all the difficulties have been overcome of course; there is a long way to go. The scale of the problem is immensely greater than it was in central and eastern Europe. The promise of accession has instituted democratic systems throughout most of the region and economic reforms are beginning to take hold. Negotiations with Croatia are open and the Union is due to take a decision on negotiations with FYROM this year. But look closely and you will see rapid progress in Serbia and the other countries of the region. This is largely, though not entirely, the result of the promise of accession. Measure the distance these countries have moved since the end of the wars and you will find that it is immense.
In Europe east of the river Bug the situation is more complex, also because we are dealing with countries which have been poorly governed since the early nineteen-nineties. The common values of the European Union, democracy, transparency and the protection of human and minority rights, cannot therefore be taken for granted, even as an objective for the future. We see this clearly in Belarus. However the Rose and Orange Revolutions have demonstrated that there is a longing for democracy and for freedom in this region, which has driven the people out into the streets to secure these values.
The Union has responded to these deeply-held convictions by creating the European Neighbourhood Policy, which aims at gradual integration with the Union, essentially through the adoption of parts of the acquis and the respect of democratic and human values.
But it is true that our message today is obscured by the debate on the limits of Europe, which has erupted especially after the failure of the constitutional referenda in France and the Netherlands. There are many who want to draw the ultimate eastern boundary along the river Bug in my country. But that would be to deny the struggles of those who want to share our values and to contribute to them; it would also be contrary to the objectives of the Treaty.
It should be clearly stated that neither the Commission nor any other Community institution has excluded the eventual accession of any European country, nor, as I said, would it be possible in view of the current Treaty.
What we have said is that accession is not on the cards in the near future. Obviously the countries may never achieve full integration but to exclude then completely would contribute to destroying many of the positive reforms, which the peoples achieved by coming out in the streets in favour of democracy and justice.
The European Union can only gain by integrating progressively with neighbouring European countries. The conditionality embedded in the Action Plans with the countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus will gradually extend the space of democracy and peace.
In my view progressive integration of the Continent will not endanger the future of the Union or the maintenance of our essential values. An unwillingness to undertake essential economic reforms and an inability to communicate the enormous achievements of the Union to our citizens are far more likely to do this.
To conclude, let me say that we should be immensely proud of the role of the Union in supporting democracy throughout the whole Continent. This has improved the quality of life of millions. We should not stop short of the ambition of the founding fathers to reunite the whole Continent in peace and prosperity reflected in the preamble to the EC Treaty in which Member States call upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts.