International Herald Tribune —
Signing on to the EU • By George A. Papandreou
A big step forward for Europe’s community of values
In Athens on Wednesday, Greece is proudly hosting one of the most significant events Europe has witnessed. Ten countries will sign a treaty bringing them into the European Union, completing the greatest enlargement in the Union’s 46-year history.
For the new member states — Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Malta, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — joining this family meant sharing important aspects of national sovereignty and undertaking real reform. For those already in the Union it meant a commitment to let the new members share equally in decision-making and to support their economic and social development.
The agreement to join the EU is a contract between peoples, not merely a treaty between states.
It is a contract to join the largest, most fascinating peace project in the world and possibly in mankind’s history, overcoming the legacies of World War II and of the Cold War.
It is a contract to share in the most expansive democracy project ever attempted, as we put behind us some of the most hideous and absolutist ideologies we have ever known.
It is a contract to become part of the most innovative economic project around, through the creation of a single market and a single currency, the euro, with the goal of competitiveness for our economy and prosperity for our citizens.
It is a contract to work together in solidarity to ensure that none of our citizens are denied the fruits of peace, freedom, security and prosperity, to uphold and defend fundamental human rights, both inside and outside the Union, and to foster sustainable development locally and globally.
The signing in Athens on Wednesday is not a final act. It should be seen as a new beginning. On Wednesday morning, EU heads of state and government will debate the emerging ideas of the Convention on the Future of Europe. Whatever new system we decide on, it must make the Union’s politicians and institutions more accessible and accountable to Europe’s citizens.
In our efforts to be innovative on the democratic deficit, Greece, which currently holds the presidency of the Union, has initiated an online voting project, e-Vote, to ensure that public opinion on key EU issues is taken into account in the decision-making process.
Some say that EU enlargement should now stop. I believe that would be both a missed opportunity for the Union and a cruel blow to those countries for whom the prospect of EU membership offers lasting peace and democratic governance and is an important incentive for reform.
We in the Balkans know this only too well The region has witnessed some of the most tragic conflicts in Europe’s recent past. The EU’s founders envisaged an organization that would banish the specter of war by promoting understanding, cooperation and respect. This vision is slowly but surely breaking down old stereotypes and animosities in Southeastern Europe.
This why, in the coming years, we must honor our commitment to incorporate this region into the EU. We will step up the pace of negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania, in the confident expectation that we will welcome them as members in 2007.
As we agreed at Copenhagen in December, we need to encourage Turkey to pursue its reform process. We hope this strengthened accession partnership with Turkey will result in a decision to start membership negotiations in December 2004.
In the Western Balkans, we have opened up a stabilization process that will lead to integration into the EU as long as these countries strengthen democratic structures and transparent economic institutions, and address the issues of organized crime, the return of refugees and good neighborly relations.
Finally, the accession of Cyprus does not mean abandoning the search for a solution to the island’s division. Negotiations within the UN framework, on the basis of the Annan plan, must continue until a viable solution is found. We hope to soon welcome Turkish Cypriots into a united Cyprus and a united Europe.
The EU is a brilliant mosaic of cultures, ethnicities, religions and languages, where each promises to offer the best of his or her tradition. Tomorrow, we will wake up to a Union enriched even further. The fresh injection of human capital that is the greatest benefit of a wider Europe will provide us with the skills and creativity we need for the new century.
The debate over Iraq has highlighted the need to build a stronger, more united Europe by developing our defense and foreign policy. But if Europe’s example inspires hope for many troubled regions around the globe, it is not because of our might. Our strength and unity lies in our commitment to a shared future in a community of values. On Wednesday we welcome our newcomers into this community.
The writer, is foreign minister of Greece.