“Expectations vs. Reality: A decade after the Eastern Enlargement”

FNF-Brussels_4 (Kopie)A delegation of three representatives of the “4Liberty.eu” Network, a platform for experts and intellectuals from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as three campaign organizers visited Brussels in February. Under the motto “expectations vs. reality” the discussions looked back at the developments in the participants home countries in the last decade post-accession and ahead to the upcoming European Parliament elections in May 2014. On the agenda were meetings with Members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, experts at the Centre for European Policy Studies as well as a public event (see: Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland: from EUphoria to post-accession EUrealism?).

Taneli Lahti and Natalie Lubenets, both Cabinet of Commissioner Olli Rehn, confirmed that despite predictions from the US and China that the EU would collapse, the EU is nowat a point where the existential threat the eurocrisis posed, is over. Thanks to Member States who have put great effort into getting their public finances in better shape and well-functioning instruments, a global catastrophe was prevented. “If Member States stick to the plans outlined in the economic semester, the EU will be back to cruising speed by summer, confidence of investors will continue to grow and the problem of unemployment will automatically be alleviated,” so Lahti. The expected economic and monetary stability will contribute to a political climate in which governments will be less hesitant to tackle long-overdue structural reforms.

FNF-Brussels_11 (Kopie)A window of opportunity might be opening up for EU institutional reform. A high level working group (HLWG), constituted by the Center for European Policy Studies, is in the process of doing just that. As Stephen Blockmans and Sergio Carrera, reported, the HLWG has been reviewing the competences of the EU institutions, evaluating the efficiency and democratic legitimacy and identifying areas where treaty revisions may be necessary. Among other points, the final report, which will be launched on 19 March, proposes a post-accession procedure, linked to European semester, which would monitor the state of rule of law and fundamental rights besides economic and monetary policy.

FNF-Brussels_12 (Kopie)Day two of the programme was dedicated to meetings at the European Parliament, where MEP Hans van Baalen and MEP Gesine Meißner spoke with the participants about the upcoming European Parliament elections, strategies of VVD and FDP in the Netherlands and Germany, respectively, and conjectured about the outcome of the elections for European liberals. Echoing the concerns of the Eastern European visitors, MEP van Baalen said that the current climate of skepticism against integration is understandable: “the EU should not be turned into an old-fashioned nation state like France, but focus on the important issues (s.a. the Euro, the single market, immigration policy) and leave much more to the Member States.” Joakim Frantz, Political Adviser at the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party, added that liberal parties across Europe are facing a unique set of challenges: with populist and right-wing parties trying to overtake liberals as third strongest party in the European Parliament and low voter turnout in European elections, every vote liberals will be able to mobilize counts. More importantly, however, is the long-term objective of imbuing the European Union with a new outlook. “In the minds of younger people, the EU is no longer the “peace project” it has successfully been communicated as for a long time; the time has come for a new message,” so Frantz.

The programme was accompanied by Vacláv Bakovsky, Programme Coordinator, Project Office Prague, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Susan Schneider

Fotos: FNF Europe