Good evening ladies and gentlemen?
It’s my pleasure to participate in this great debate, the question whether to support or not to support the European Union expansion program is timely and also my delight to answer.
Standing on this platform representing the interest of the Belgian people and the government, its valuable therefore to express that the country strongly champions for, and supports the expansion of the European Union. It has been our greatest aspiration and desire.
Belgium was among the very first founders of the European Union and has been on the forefront pressing for its progress agenda. The country was among the first member countries to adopt and ratify the principles of the union and even went further to use the euros as the national currency, the country further became the headquarters of the union’s organization.
With the adoption of the open market economy and the use of Euros as its currency, Belgium has offered a competitive free environment for new investors. Since the integration into the community, Belgium has seen increased trade outcomes with its trading partners. The country has been ranked among the best performing economies in the Union.
The short and the long run gains obtained so far through the integration is evident both in the country and other union members, infrastructural development, unemployment reduction and stability of governments. The expanded market frontiers to member’s countries, social justice and security are evident. Besides, better international influence and partnerships have been achieved. The Belgian people therefore advocates for the integration and expansion.
Belgians perspectives in the European Union
Belgium as a country is among the highly developed group of industrialized and democratic open and free market economies. This economic boom is all attributed to the influence of the European Union. The country has a long standing trade partnership with the westerns countries of North America, with USA being the dominant trading partner. The USA finds Belgium a good investment destination due to its economic policies and prevailing democracy.
After the devastating end of the world war two, Belgium embarked on a path of reconstruction. The country began to reconcile the cultural differences within it and also to develop good trade ties (El-agraa & Ardy, 2011). To achieve the above strategies the country championed for a common European community that could bring together different countries of Europe.
From the time it become a member of the community Belgium has seen rapid growth in its economy. Foreign investment amounted higher than $705 billion when cumulated by 2009 this was due to the European Union’s 1992 single-market strategic program. The GDP of the Belgian is ranked among the worlds highest. The countries gross expenditure and earning has been kept at near balance with the government’s deficit rated at 4.0 percent by 2010. This was achieved as a result of the requirement by the monetary commission of the union that the deficit of Belgium had to be 3% by the year 1997. The central location of the country in the European Union geography has also boosted trade; most goods pass through the country en-route other parts of the world.
Belgium reformed much if its economic policies to the favors of the union, this is because much of the trade is within the member states. Without the European Union the country would not be where it is. With expansion the gains would be appreciable (Healey, 1995).
As one of the economic blocks the European Union has been considered by many member countries as the biggest driver of economies in major European nations. The union has seen the tremendous increase in its membership in the recent past. The eastern European countries like Serbia and Czechoslovakia have shown interest of joining; other countries, including Turkey, have indicated interest of joining. The euro stands out to be the strongest, and many of the member states have experienced serious economic booms or infrastructural developments than before.
The membership has grown from 14 to 27 between the year 2004- 2007 with widening economic gains in general, many member states are slowly achieving positive ground in the reform agendas i.e. governance, justice. The Lisbon Treaty of integration and enlargement laid out the framework for such an expansion and Belgium, being the founding member of the European Union, is in the fore front advocating for this expansion (El-agraa & Ardy, 2011).
The Advantages of Expansion
The European Union was formed after the period of great social and military conflicts, which followed the world war; however, much progress has been achieved in terms of regional integration, the euro block boasts of being one of the united blocks in the world. Conflicts are minimal among euro members, except only among the few states that are still in the process of integration like the nations eastern of Europe i.e. Serbia (Healey, 1995). Consolidated strength has made many European nations more secure than they were before; the war against terrorism is an example (Healey, 1995).
Globalization also demands the widening of market frontiers and demand, consumer base must increase in order to use manufactured products; this is evident in China. Economy booms as the result of the large domestic consumption that generates huge revenues for the government. In order for the European Union to widen its market size, it has to invite more members and expand. Consumers can now have wide market and diverse choices of goods moving across the various borders of member states.
Belgium has seen tangible development right from the employment, infrastructure and industry. The GDP has been on steady increase since 1993 with a primary balance of deficit between 1993 and 2007 stabilizing. Unemployment is among the least in the world, currently standing at 8.3 percent (Bezen & Birgul, 2009). The union’s uniqueness comes from the fact that it is not described by some sort of the geographical boundary but rather simply by the ability of any country to commit itself to the principles and objectives of the union, Belgium projects that by 2015 the unemployment rate shall have reduced to 4% and even lower with the European integration and expansion. To this country the collapse of the union could mean a total collapse to its economy (Healey, 1995).
Analysis of Expansion Progress
Membership of the European Union grows after every five years with admission of new members and application of interest from many states. The period of 2004 to 2007 realized a big number of new memberships, fourteen new countries in total were granted full membership, making the European Union to have the membership of twenty seven by 2007 with Romania and Bulgaria as the latest members joining by late 2007 (Ross, 2002).
The states in the wider western Balkans regions have shown interest in joining. Nations like Turkey and Croatia are in the process of accession negotiations, the European Union are expected to stretch into an all-time high of 29 should these countries join (Ross, 2002).
The rules are stipulated by the European Union commission, which requires the new members to join the block at their own convenient time, only when they are ready. The commission monitors the progress of countries, which are in the negotiation stages and makes reports to the commission for decision making (Ross, 2002).
Provision of Assistance to Prospecting Members
Prospecting members are to be given relevant and necessary assistance, which is to help them during the transition process to become members; this is according to the resolution made in 2000 after the enlargement treaty. Euros worth of 3.3 billion is set aside annually towards this scheme by the commission. This money goes to the transformation of the market economy to conform to the requirements of free economies by the commission. Part of the money is used in strengthening institutions of democracy, justice and social development. With the introduction of the Twinning program in 1998, the program which seeks to assist the new member’s during the pre-accession stages, prospecting members can import assistance in terms of human resources, management skills and structures have also offered motivation for faster integration. This assistance promotes faster reform progress, especially in countries that may not have enough economic strength to meet the minimum requirements of the commission. Since its inception 1,100 projects have been accomplished. The total money allocated for this assistance program for 2007- 2013 is 11.5 billion Euros (Ross, 2002).
Belgium as the founding members has laid out policies that are not only beneficial to its growth but also ensures that all the EU members grow to stability, the country contribute towards the assistance program and also give out material and technical support from its wide human resource base (Bezen & Birgul, 2009).
Preparation of the European Union for Expansion
Strategies have always been developed to ensure that new members are admitted and that no unworthy prohibitions are put against any interested parties. In the year 2004 a treaty seeking to allow for enlargement, which was called the enlargement protocol, was adopted and passed by the union. Among some of the aspirations included the provisions for the bigger European Union parliament, introduction of the weighted votes, where member countries will have different voting powers as is happening in the United Nations general assembly. This enlargement protocol was ratified by member states and adopted in 2003 (Ross, 2002).
Other enlargement policies adopted by the European commission include green growth fund (GGF) adopted to assist countries’ reforms on environmental issues and sustainable developments. There is also the European funds for south east Europe (EFSE). The prospecting member countries are also allowed to participate in enlargement programs (Bezen & Birgul, 2009).
Question of Public Support
The support of the public is one of the fundamental necessities of an organizational success. The European Union can only be successful when given the full barking not only by the central governments but also by the citizens of these countries.
The majority of the citizens of many countries were found to be in support of the European Union, however, few individuals were also found to be of the contrary opinion, and some were totally uninformed and unaware of the functioning of the European Union. According to the survey done in 2002, sixty six percent of the citizens in the European Union zone supported the Union’s operations in their countries with only twenty two percent saying no. Sixty nine percent supported their governments’ participations in the European Union (Jacques, 2006).
Public awareness is also undertaken by the European commission to ensure that all the citizens in member countries are adequately informed about the operations and aims of the commission (Jacques, 2006).
Effects of the Enlargement on Global Dimensions
Wider market blocks and increased bargaining powers are among the immediate result of the widened economic block. The Euromarkets under single market rules, tariffs and administrative procedures will offer cheap means of trade both within the member countries and outside output, thus making it one of the major trading blocks in the world. Enlargement is able to make European Union more powerful in terms of global influence (Jacques, 2006).
When expanded the European Union will emerge as a wide economic block, many countries outside Europe will look at it as one trading block and this will present a window of widened consumer base for many countries. Many countries will be interested to sell their produce in the European markets. The union will derive advantage of harmonized tariff charges and minimum market requirements such that no good or product will be able to reach the European markets without meeting the required quality and standards. When the European Union exercises market control, the wider global market will be driven to comply with some of the minimum requirements of trade such as the quality of products and environmental health standards.
Belgium is in the forefront encouraging member countries on adopting the use of Euros as currencies in order for the euro to continue gaining strength and global power, in most countries the world euro stand as the strongest currency ahead of the US dollar. Through such economic strength the European Union is able to diffuse the impacts of global economic fluctuations (Artis & Nixson, 2007).
Challenges of Expansion
Some of the challenges faced by the European Union in its attempts to enlarge include slowed reform momentum among some countries. Some countries, for example the Balkan states, are still struggling with their challenges of regional insecurity and integration and this slows down the reform process. It is only till a country is stable enough according to the requirements stipulated then it can be allowed to join the European Union.
The communism ideologies and the power of the Russian confederation still bears much influence especially in eastern European countries like Poland where communism sympathies are still held in some way, the demand of pure market economies as advocated by the European Union still presents a big challenge.
Social inclusion problems and social injustices are still evident in many nations across some of the European members and among some countries aspiring to become members. Some countries still experience ethnic tensions and hatred. Countries for example Serbia, Kosovo, Yugoslavia and others of the south east Europe are still held in cross border disputes making investment and integration hard. Free movement of good and people can only be possible with cross border peace.
The cross border disputes are still evident among many countries (Apap, 2003). Suspicion and lack of mutual trust by the main economic powers of the European Union has proved to a major setback in the expansion campaign, economic wars and supremacy battles between countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and France have greatly hampered the success of the union. The question of superpower or who is to wield veto powers has been the reasons behind the reluctance of the United Kingdom to accept some trade policies of the European Union (Jacques, 2006).
Economic stability and security has made the euro zone emerge as one of the strongest markets in the world, the euro stands out to be the strongest, and many of the member states have either experienced serious economic booms or infrastructural developments than before. The European Union has the strong voice in the global forums. The membership has grown from 14 to 27 between the year 2004- 2007, with widening economic gains in general, many member states are slowly gaining positive ground in the reform agendas i.e. governance, justice, infrastructures development, peace and stability. The above gains have motivated the present commission the member countries to prospect for enlargement and inclusion of more member states (Healey, 1995).
There are a few challenges that have faced the union so far. This has especially been the case in the challenging modern economic and political era. The major modern challenges facing the EU include the general difficulties that face European integration, whereby the EU is seen as lacking the political power or legitimacy to undertake major institutional changes. Another source of great challenge is how tackle the major fiscal challenges. The Greek and Italian financial crisis is the case in point. Apart from the soaring debts, the weakening banks and immigration troubles, the European Union also has to contend with the problem of the war in Afghanistan and its declining influence. China has emerged as the crucial challenge in this respect.
Besides the seen shortfall in the union there is greater evidence of bigger gains now than before.
The recent bailout plans for various European Union member countries like Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain that were deeply affected by the economic recession of the 2008 has revealed what a wider healthy economic block can do. These countries have been cushioned from serious economic collapse and downfall. The only way the European union and its various trade partners will tune to good healthy production technologies and follow after good trading principles is by forming a bigger block that speak as a voice, through the setting of quality standards especially on food products, for example through the setting of standards like UREPGAP the union can achieve its desired interests of environmental health and sustainability (Jacques, 2006). Many food importing countries especially African countries that originally had low standards of production and environmental damaging technologies of production are now attempting to reform in order not to become irrelevant in the market.
The European Union expansion has never been such timely as now. The opportune moments presented by many countries that have long lived in repressions and political intolerance like the Arab nations and North African nations can only be exploited through expansion of an economic block that fights for democracy and political freedom. This has indeed been witnessed through the voice and interventions that the European Union member countries have had in the recent Arab spring. Therefore as these countries move from repressions to democracies the European Union can invite them to become members.
The Belgium government, however, supports the expansion program for it reveals the brighter future for the European Union because once above challenges are overcome the benefits will far outweigh the costs.
No matter how it is looked at and irrespective of which perspective one argues ,the debate shouldno longer be as to whether there should be an expansion or not but rather on how best the expansion plan can be achieved. The issue should be on how many countries and which specific membership criterion should be relevant to ensure that newer members are completely integrated.