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Europe’s Divisions, Old and New

LJUBLJANA: From Joschka Fisher to Jacques Chirac visions of a federal EU are multiplying. To Slovenes, these ideas are unsettling reminders of Yugoslavia’s federal design. Yugoslavia’s federation failed because, in uniting so many differences, it could be held together only by undemocratic, even authoritarian, means. Should Slovenes, who avoided the worst of Yugoslavia’s bloody dissolution, now jump into a new federal adventure, even if it is a European one?

That choice, of course, is not Slovenia’s alone and is, anyway, now hostage to other concerns. Ten years ago, after the Berlin wall fell and Germany was reunited, Europe’s democracies said that they wanted to repair the historic injustice of Europe’s division, when the countries of East/Central Europe became a type of war booty for the Soviet Union. Today, as almost anyone east of the old Iron Curtain will tell you, however, enlargement is moving ahead at a snail’s pace.

Candidate countries must harmonize their political and economic systems with the so-called acquis communautaire; current EU members want to ensure their ability to absorb enlargement by revising the EU’s structures. It is often heard that the current number of members already makes the EU’s work difficult. So it is virtually impossible to imagine enlargement to 27 members not endangering today’s system.

The EU’s first response to these fears was to make minimal changes – ie, to the number of commissioners, the weight of votes within the Council of Ministers, and qualified majority voting. Soon after the Amsterdam summit of 1997, however, "minimalism" became insufficient. Big member states began to use the prospect of enlargement as a tool to reduce the influence of smaller states; smaller states now struggle convulsively to avoid being marginalized.