Bridging the Council divides: east and west

General Politics

This is an excerpt from Global Counsel's latest publication Europe in the Global Economy, which can be downloaded in full here

The strategic, security and economic case for the 2005-2013 programme of enlargement remains clear but is under significant strain from perceived divergence of values. Countries that have joined the EU since 2004 provide EU economic growth potential, play a crucial role in external borders protection and serve as competitive places to source supply chains within the single market. But this may be coming at a price that is often too high for the ‘old’ members — compromised liberal values and assertive attitude to budget allocation, reluctance to tow a German line on migration and even scepticism of the quality of western European products placed on eastern European markets.

The crucial issue for the EU eastern members is maintaining sovereignty while western capitals see a failure to show solidarity and unity. The sharp focus on the attempts to defeat western European populism over the last three years has often meant a failure to note the strength of its eastern variants and their demand for greater sovereignty. The ‘new’ member states instinctively object to the prospect of being pushed to the EU periphery, two decades after their accession by a Franco-German led eurozone, or the concept of ‘multi-speed’ Europe advocated by large western European states. Meanwhile, the western members see inconsistent commitment to joining the single currency, reluctance to burden-sharing on refugees and a stubborn resistance to reflect on the future of subsidies and transfers.

A more equitable distribution of EU agencies and top jobs to newer member states may be part of the Brussels response, but it risks missing the point. To be sure, alienation from Brussels institutions is exacerbated by dominance of western Europeans in formal and informal positions of power. Council president, Donald Tusk, remains an exception — and not an advertisement for Polish influence in Brussels as far as many Polish Eurosceptics are concerned. A Commission president from the east may be able to reduce the divides and will be an attractive presentational fix for many in 2019. But the problem of building a genuine new east-west consensus runs much deeper than that.

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