by David C. Grabbe
The inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania into the European Union on January 1, 2007, marks a significant turning point in its history—though not necessarily in a positive way. Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) puts it this way:
The inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the European club will transform the fundamental character of the union—more so than the addition of any other members to date—and help to usher in its downfall as a political grouping. ("Geopolitical Diary," October 27, 2006)
The accession of Bulgaria and Romania is attractive to the EU for a number of reasons. For one, it brings the Balkans further under the umbrella of the West, allowing the EU to absorb the remaining Balkan states slowly. Additionally, both Bulgaria and Romania border on the Black Sea—to which the EU has previously not had access. This is significant for both strategic and economic reasons.
Nevertheless, not all is rosy in the addition of these two new members—at least not for the core European states. Until recently, France and Germany have largely been the EU's driving forces, both politically and economically. Yet, with each new EU ascension, France and Germany must struggle harder to impose their combined will upon the rest of the union. But, as Stratfor says, "[I]n a union of 27, the fundamental math changes," for when making union-wide decisions, each member state has a number of votes more or less proportionate to its population. Under a 25-member EU, France and Germany held sufficient voting weight together to block any measures they did not want. However, the two new members tip the balance; combined, the other EU states will have the voting power to override a Franco-German veto.
In other words, the EU—a project proposed and driven by France, essentially to allow Paris to punch above its weight—has now outgrown its "master." It is now theoretically possible for the EU to make a decision without France having any recourse to counter it. How long will it be until France wearies of this and quits its own project?
Some indicators suggest that France is already on its way out—albeit slowly. For starters, the French—along with the Dutch—voted against the EU constitution. When this foundational document was put before the French people, they rejected it, realizing that the EU was slipping outside the bounds of what they desired. Rather than institutionalize something against their desires, this core country rejected the EU constitution.
Additionally, France's leadership has begun challenging the EU's common monetary policy (Stratfor Global Intelligence Brief, "France: Second Guessing the Eurozone," November 16, 2006). In an interview on November 11, 2006, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin challenged the authority of the European Central Bank (ECB)—the institution responsible for Europe's common currency and monetary policy—to set policies that affect exchange rates and interest rates, warning that current policies hurt exports. Europe, he said, needs a "monetary shield," implying a desire for an artificially weaker euro to strengthen the competitiveness of European exporters—though the exporters he is most concerned about are those in France.
He is essentially saying that the ECB should stop being independent—and thus immune to political meddling—so that some of the member states (read, France) can influence monetary policy. His desire is for monetary policy that allows France to keep certain inefficient aspects of its social welfare state, while simultaneously allowing fast economic growth through low interest rates. In short, de Villepin wants the ECB to cater to the interests of France. It will not do this, and with the addition of Bulgaria and Romania—both of which are much more pro-America and pro-free-market—France will be unable to muscle through a change by passing a law.
France's ability to manipulate the EU is becoming increasingly more difficult. As Stratfor says,
This means that many French leaders are beginning to second-guess not only France's rationale for being in groupings like the eurozone, but even in organizations like the European Union. . . . If France is to remain in the union in the long-term, one of two things will need to change. Either the bloc's other 24 (soon to be 26) capitals will have to begin acceding to French desires, or France will have to become just another country. Those who know Europeans know that neither is particularly likely.
Along these same lines, the CIA warned in 2004 of the potential collapse of the EU within fifteen years, based largely on what France decides:
One view has been that since the EU is a primarily French creation—an attempt to preserve French power in Europe and to enhance France economically—its fate will depend on France. In crises, the French either [will write] a new constitution or violently [dismantle] the state [the EU]. This suggests that Europe may end in an explosive collapse. (National Intelligence Council Europe Workshop, April 28—29, 2004).
If France is already beginning to believe that the EU has outlived its usefulness, fifteen years may be rather optimistic.