EC: Sorting out the membership queue. (1 of 2)

EC: Sorting out the membership queue. (1 of 2) - With little or no guidance on how to determine the suitability of applicants for membership of the European Community, Peter Wilsher looks at the many would-be Europeans.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

With little or no guidance on how to determine the suitability of applicants for membership of the European Community, Peter Wilsher looks at the many would-be Europeans.

They seek it here, they seek it there, the definition of the new, expanded Europe which is now in prospect after the precipitate ending of the Cold War and the breakdown of the old superpower-dominated certainties. For once there is no longer a Berlin Wall and an Iron Curtain to define the eastern limit of the idea, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to decide exactly where it will ultimately become necessary to draw the line.

This is far from being a merely academic question. The queue of would-be members of the European Community grows almost by the week. Already there are enough eager and well qualified candidates to expand the present 12 to well beyond the 20 mark, and it is not hard to make a case for increasing that to 30 or more before you run into serious geographical problems.

But obviously geography alone is not enough to determine the suitability of a particular applicant. As with any other club, you need to discriminate and make certain basic enquiries. Will this person (or in this case, nation) fit in with the rest of the membership? Is he rich enough to afford the subscription (or deserving of special help and sympathy to tide him over until his circumstances improve)? Is he likely to get into disruptive arguments over religion or ideology? Can he be relied upon not to start throwing his weight about once he qualifies to stand for the committee? Does he support the basic objectives of the organisation, or is he just after social kudos and the appearance of respectability? Is he, in the words of someone who was deeply suspicious of the whole European enterprise, "one of us"?

The EC's basic document, the Treaty of Rome, offers little useful guidance. In its Article 237 it states only that "any European state may apply to join the Community". But even before the disintegration of the Soviet empire the cases of Greece and Turkey showed the kind of difficulty that was likely to arise. Neither was part of "Western Europe". Nor did they, in any very obvious sense, share the framework of values, shared history and general culture which united the original six, and the trio of Britain, Ireland and Denmark which came in on the second wave. But in the end Greece was successful - largely thanks to American sponsorship and its somewhat shaky "cradle of democracy" credentials - despite widespread doubts about its late-20th-century suitability.

Turkey, on the other hand, remains in the waiting room as an "associate", being regarded as too large (with a rapidly growing population that will soon match that of the combined Germanys), too Muslim and insufficiently democratic. There will be many more such cases to decide, now that the floodgates which formerly blocked off Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic states have virtually disappeared.

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