Of Face Lifts And Phobias

Prominent politicians discuss the future of Europe’s borders

News | Nayeli Urquiza | April 2009

Europe is like an old lady who has had too much surgery. Her wrinkles and wounds have been lifted so many times that people hardly recognize her anymore. Still there are surely a few distinguishable traits that persist.

But which ones?  Is it her height or her voice? Is it her temper, or the scar near her ear? Is it the birthmark on her shoulder or the lines framing her cheeks?

Four experienced European observers could not agree on whether this venerable lady should have either a major face-lift or just new make-up at the panel discussion "Europe’s Borders" on Mar.17 organized by the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) and the Austrian daily Der Standard.

"I think Europe is about values, not only about geography," said Nino Bujarnadze, opposition speaker of the Georgian Parliament. Georgia is a partner in the European Neighborhood Policy that includes 17 other East European, Southern Caucasus and North African countries that according to its website, aims to avoid "the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and our neighbors" while strengthening "the prosperity, stability and security of its parties."

The ENP can be a helpful instrument in getting rid of corruption, emphasized Cem Özdemir, Co-Leader of the German Green Party, but it should not be used as an alternative for membership in the EU. This was echoed by Bujarnadze, who said the ENP won’t be enough for Georgia, which is fundamentally European in its values.

"The problem is my country really wants to be a part of Europe," said Bujarnadze, "not only because Europe is attractive, but mostly because of values that are so important that they give Europeans the possibility to find common language despite the differences."

However, while geography may be the first criterion as to who belongs to the EU, it is not the only one, according to Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and the ENP.  Any candidate country has to share Europe’s fundamental values, fulfill certain economic criteria and adopt its body of law, commonly known as the acquis communautaire. Meanwhile, the EU must have the capacity to absorb the new states.

"There is no free lunch," said Ferrero-Waldner. "We have to fully take on the heavy obligations of this club we are in. They are difficult and a lot still has to be done. A lot depends on political will and on stamina, but the ball is in their court."

Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish president from 1995 to 2005, does not believe in political borders. His own country has for centuries been at the center of wars and other conflicts over political and geographical borders in Europe. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Poland and its neighbors were somehow swept up by the "transformational power" of the EU.

During the political transition to become a liberal democracy and shake off its communist past, Poland didn’t change its borders even by one centimeter. However all its neighbors changed, Kwasniewski pointed out, and in a peaceful way, as Czechoslovakia divorced and the Soviet Union collapsed.

On Turkey’s desire to become part of the 27 member group, Özdemir said it has been criticized very sternly, but that it was slowly moving in the right direction. Europe’s "tough love" is transparent on the whole, and clear in its rules. If countries want in, they have to stop "misbehaving."

The speakers may not have agreed on the essence of Europe, and whether or not she’s defined by her scars, but they are firm believers in its gender-transformation, from being the hard-power warlord it was for centuries, into the soft-power lady of persuasion and cooperation.

Will it last?

"We need an open Europe that creates bridges I would say instead of walls,"  Ferrero-Waldner said. "But at the same time that ensures our security towards the outside. Therefore we must acknowledge that boundaries are also a logical part of any political space."

Perhaps Ferrero-Waldner is right. But perhaps it is also a matter of where you stand. Europeans think of her as soft and civilized, but to outsiders, Europe looks more like a border guard who won’t allow anyone inside.

Other articles from this issue