Thursday, 4 January 2007

EU enlargement need not be a neo-liberal project

A few days ago, Romania and Bulgaria became the latest formerly communist East European states to join the European Union (EU). Similarly to their East European neighbours, both Romania and Bulgaria had implemented a range of political and economic reforms in order to fulfil the EU's accession criteria which is oriented towards liberal democratic capitalism. The enlargement project has prompted the EU, as a political organisation, to reconsider and redefine its purpose and objectives. This manifested in the ill-fated 2004 draft constitution

Following the appointment of the current commission, the EU has become increasingly associated across the continent with neoliberalism due to its commitments to market liberalisation. Interestingly, the French left successfully opposed the draft EU constitution, which was subjected to ratification by the French electorate in the 2004 referendum, because of its neoliberal orientation.

However, the EU's historical achievements transcend the creation of free markets. The Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty (1992) created new imperatives for member state governments to implement policies that provided legal protection to the rights of the workforce. EU human rights directives influenced the introduction of human rights legislation in the UK, which until the early 1990s was considered by some to have one of the poorest human rights records in Europe.

A number of academics and commentators have argued that the EU provides varying degrees of protection for European economies within the international context of economic globalisation. Some have even suggested that the EU has amounted to a social democratic force in the politics of its member states.

Currently, the future direction of the EU is unclear, especially given the enlargement project and the defeat of the draft constitution. However, historical precedents suggest that EU expansion and integration need not necessarily be predicated entirely on neo-liberalism. EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania might be prove to be a civilising and progressively reforming influence in the political and economic life of these countries rather than simply granting them access to so-called free markets.

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