EU-New Zealand Relations after Enlargement: Chris Patten Comments on the Implications of the Major Expansion of the European Union Underway at Present

By Patten, Christopher | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview
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EU-New Zealand Relations after Enlargement: Chris Patten Comments on the Implications of the Major Expansion of the European Union Underway at Present


Patten, Christopher, New Zealand International Review


As part of my preparation for this trip I naturally read with interest Prime Minister Helen Clark's Europa lecture which she delivered last November at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. What struck me particularly about her remarks was the clear interest at the highest level in New Zealand in developments in the European Union and in Europe generally. I was delighted to see that she clearly wished to strengthen the EU-New Zealand relationship further, but I also sensed some anxieties that the European Union might be so preoccupied with its own internal concerns that it might have not so much time to devote to developing links with a geographically distant partner like New Zealand.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am visiting New Zealand now precisely to discuss with the authorities here possible ways in which we can bring forward the bilateral relationship, building on the existing healthy foundations.

What is the State of the Union--the European Union--today? The media in Europe has insistently flagged up internal EU disagreements, for instance about the American military intervention in Iraq or about future constitutional arrangements for the union itself. I can well imagine that here in New Zealand you might have the impression that the European Union is sunk in stasis and that nothing constructive is being achieved. On the contrary, the reality is that quietly in the background the work of building a well integrated, economically successful and externally effective Europe is going on steadily.

Enlargement will shortly become a reality. The Accession Treaty was signed in Athens on 16 April. If all goes well, the new member states will enter the union in May 2004. The decision by the Union in the early 1990s to go for a fast enlargement took political courage, but it demonstrated political wisdom. Left alone to drift for an indefinite period the countries of Central and Eastern Europe might have slipped back into instability. On the other hand, offering them the prospect of entering the Union helped to consolidate their historic transition to democratic societies and market economies. The experience of the accession of Spain and Greece had amply demonstrated that membership of the Union was a powerful force in consolidating democracy and a liberal society.

Unique transformation

Considerable courage was also required from the candidate countries. They had to embark on a unique transformation of their societies. Modern democracies with the institutions of the rule of law as well as modern administrations had to be built out of literally nothing. Floundering economies had to be restructured into competitive market economies. Over a relatively short time span, most of the future member states had mastered this process to such an extent that their integration into the European Union became possible. We need to appreciate just how remarkable the reforms carried out and being carried out by Central and Eastern European societies actually are. Problems and weaknesses quite understandably remain in these countries, but we must not overlook the enormous progress made.

Enlargement has already entailed an unprecedented transfer of legislation (the acquis) from the European Union to the candidate countries. Substantial financial resources were found by the European Union to help prepare the candidate countries for accession through training, technical assistance and essential investments. The process of negotiations for enlargement also involved a major organisational effort in order to handle systematically all the wide-ranging technical issues involved and to ensure that all candidates were treated on the same basis. Hard decisions on reining in spending under the Common Agricultural Policy were also taken recently by the European Union in order to be able to match the agricultural financing demands of enlargement to available budget possibilities and make it feasible to take in ten new countries.

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