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Valery Giscard D'estaing, the former French president, once observed that "if the European Community has succeeded in surviving and, even, in making some progress, this has always been at the price of maintaining a persistent ambiguity as to its ultimate destination."(1) As the European Union (EU) prepares to enter the twenty-first century, three factors are demanding a more explicit debate about what the EU's possible end-point should be. These are
* the loss of the traditional geostrategic context for European integration;
* the expansion of the EU agenda into areas of "high" policy; and
* declining public support for the idea of "Europe."
This essay will identify the challenges each of these three developments pose to the EU. It will compare the competing visions about the end-point of integration that individual EU leaders and governments are putting forward in light of these challenges. It argues that, in an attempt to reconcile these competing visions, European leaders are abandoning for the time being their efforts to draw all the nations of Europe together under a uniform institutional roof. As a result of the challenges currently confronting the EU, Europe is beginning to re-fragment along the same lines as in 1957, when the original six states founded the European Community.
Coming to Terms with the End of the Cold War
The cold war was responsible for much of the ambiguity about the ultimate destination of European integration during the three decades after the creation of the European Community (EC). From 1957-89, West European integration was a subset of the bipolar strategic standoff, which provided the European Community with its internal balance. Germany, the potential hegemon of the European continent, was divided, leaving the Federal Republic to play a central but not overbearing role in West European integration. After a still-born effort in the early 1950s, EC member states removed the contentious issue of defense from the integration agenda and placed it under the aegis of the Atlantic Alliance. European economic integration flourished only within the Western half of the continent, in what was an artificially restricted geographic space. By calling for a "united Europe" or a "Europe beyond Yalta," West European leaders constantly undermined the notion that the European Community could progress to a stable end-point.
The end of the cold war challenged the conceptual foundations of European integration. Today, the European Union must take into account the reality of a united Germany, the imminent expansion of the geographic boundaries of the European Union, and the need to overcome the obstacles to developing common European foreign and security policies.
Dominique Moisi described the unique symmetry between German and French political influence within Europe during the cold war as "the fragile balance of imbalances," based as it was upon their respective possession of "the deutsche mark and the bomb."(2) German unification and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact shifted this balance irretrievably. Germany has regained some of its pre-war size, its position at the center of post-Communist Europe, and its privileged trade and investment links with its eastern neighbors. Simultaneously, France and Britain's status as Western Europe's only nuclear powers has lost its political value in the absence of a direct armed threat to Western Europe. True, Germany still faces strong internal and external constraints in translating its economic power into an assertive foreign policy; but its role in the EU's recognition of Croatian independence, its position on the Contact Group overseeing Western intervention in the former Yugoslavia, and its likely ascendancy to permanent status on the United Nations (UN) Security Council all presage a more "normal" role for Germany in international relations in the twenty-first century - and a more assertive role within Europe.
This change in Germany's position constitutes a fundamental challenge for the European Union. During the cold war, the European Community integrated the West German economy with the economies of its EC partners, without reawakening fears of German economic domination. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the East-West divide "contained" any increase in German power commensurate with its rise to become the country with the third largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world. Today, NATO's main purpose is not to defend Western Europe against military invasion, but to promote stability in central and eastern Europe as a political-military alliance, while being held in reserve for crises on Europe's periphery. It now falls to the European Union to take on responsibility for containing Germany.
The rapid completion of the Maastricht Treaty in December 1991 demonstrated the determination of EU leaders, including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, to bind Germany irrevocably into the structures of West European integration. The economic weight of a united Germany may translate into increased political influence within the EU's various decision-making bodies, but a deeply-integrated EU means that Germany has limited scope to pursue unilateralist policies in Europe.
Central and Eastern Europe
The flaw in this strategy is that it set to one side the second fundamental challenge to the EU after the end of the cold war: the need to enlarge the EU to the East. The collapse of communism in 1989 placed responsibility for ensuring the future stability of Central and Eastern Europe firmly at the door of the EU. The EU's rapid conclusion in 1991-92 of far-reaching Association Agreements with the new European democracies could not hold back the moral and political pressures (particularly from Germany) for a commitment to extend full membership to these countries. Following the Copenhagen, Essen, and Madrid European Councils, the issue now is not if or when the Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) will join the EU. As Simon Serfaty recently observed in this journal, 2003-05 appears the most likely time-frame for EU expansion - although extensive derogations in the agricultural sector and over "structural" assistance will postpone the full impact of their membership at least to the end of that decade.(3) The most important question is whether the EU can retain its institutional integrity after expanding its membership from the current 15 to a possible 25 to 30 countries.(4)
The received wisdom is that the political balance within the EU will shift in Germany's favor, since the prospective Central and East European members have already entered into Germany's economic sphere of influence. This could buttress support for further European integration. On the other hand, the focus of most new members on the redistributional benefits of EU membership, rather than on the pursuit of European political and economic union per se, may make future intra-EU alliances less predictable. Once inside the Union, the CEECs may have more in common with countries such as Portugal, Greece, and Spain that believe that further economic integration must be …