The Lost and Forgotten Lesson of German Reunification and How It Can Relaunch the European Union Project

By Bonciu, Florin | Romanian Journal of European Affairs, December 2016 | Go to article overview

The Lost and Forgotten Lesson of German Reunification and How It Can Relaunch the European Union Project


Bonciu, Florin, Romanian Journal of European Affairs


Long and medium term trends manifested within the European Union project

The long term perspective

The European Union has been particularly affected by the economic crisis that began in 2008 but there is to mention that its contribution to growth (world GDP) has been declining for the past 30 years (from almost 30% in 1980 to merely 16.5% in 2016 - Figure 1) even though more countries joined the EU in the meantime. This decline, despite all the limitations of using GDP as an indicator (Coyle, D., 2014) reflects the fact that European Union could not capitalize its own resources as well as the full potential of globalization. The enlargements, particularly the ones from 2004 and 2007 that involved 10 + 2 countries, provided a breath of a fresh air consisting in new markets and low labour costs but only caused delays in the decline.

In our opinion this long term decline has been primarily determined by the mechanical extrapolation of some rules and institutions that had made perfect sense in 1957 for the six initial member states (in the sense that those countries were to a large extent comparable and compatible as regards to culture, level of development, traditions and values, etc.), while they were less and less applicable to the next stages of enlargement (with reference to countries like Spain, Portugal, Greece and the more so to the countries belonging to the 2004 and 2007 enlargement waves).

Contrary to what happened during the real life enlargement process, from our point of view, in order to accommodate the diversity of situations and the development gaps, a pragmatic and functional approach for those enlargements could have referred to:

a)either requesting the new member states to first become OECD member countries (in this way securing a comparable level of development at least to a certain extent). Such an approach would have delayed quite considerably several countries in their accession but would have avoided most of the difficulties that manifested after accession in the implementation of the acquis communautaire;

b) or changing the rules of the game (i.e. the Treaties) and institutions in order to accommodate the diversity of situations and development gaps brought by the new Member States. In this respect, maybe the establishment of a DG for Developing countries in the European Commission would have been appropriated and beneficial. Such a Directorate General could have had the objective to support the new less developed member countries up to the moment they would have reached the average level of development of the European Union expressed in GDP/habitant.

In our opinion the combination of an ever increasing diversity of member states and maintenance of the same rules (and even enforcing stricter ones) has been an efficient recipe for decline and even for the crises that manifest today in the European Union.

The medium term perspective

For the purpose of this paper the medium term perspective refers to the situation that developed in the European Union after the onset of the crisis of 2008 until mid-2016. The crisis affected all member states but in different ways and at different intensities.

Given the differences in the levels of development and historical backgrounds that characterizes the different member states, the crisis has acted as an amplifier in the sense that the differences just grew bigger and bigger and more acute. It is interesting to mention here that the euro zone as a whole performed less (measured by GDP year on year increase) than the European Union average. As a proof of the stricter rules, the results were less satisfactory. A point to be mentioned here is that of the particularly unsatisfactory economic performance of the euro zone, which has two components: a) more and more rigid rules; b) but also the application of such rules to very different situations that may vary from Germany to Greece and from Italy to Portugal.

At the same time, other indicators, particularly unemployment rate (out of which youth employment is of clear concern) differentiated a lot the European Union member countries and had a lot of social and political implications. …

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