Rehn: EU must spread democracy, enhance interfaith understanding
On September 25, GMF hosted EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn for a discussion entitled "What's the future for EU Enlargement?" It was his first visit to Washington, DC, as commissioner and it afforded him the opportunity to discuss pressing issues with an audience of approximately 50 influential policymakers, diplomats, and journalists from the Washington community. In his presentation, Rehn focused on the potential for future EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, Turkey's membership perspects, and current negotiations on Kosovo's final status.
The Commissioner's remarks are available below:
What's the future for EU enlargement? (PDF-27KB)
Commissioner Rehn began his remarks by discussing the importance of enlargement as a powerful foreign policy tool and "a vital part of the EU's external policies." He stressed that the prospect of EU membership serves as a means to propel democratic transformation and difficult reforms in candidate countries and called for the EU to use this to its maximum potential.
Following a brief introduction, Rehn immediately shifted his attention to Turkey. He emphasized the need, "to engage with the most important community of Muslims on our doorstep, and to enhance the spread of democracy and understanding between faiths." He outlined the Turkish accession process as part of a larger strategy toward dealing with "what many people see as the new ideological enemy . . . radical Islam," which he compared to the strategy of containment and cooperation with countries behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Rehn explained that involving Turkey in the accession process will lead to a "more open [Turkish] society with rich cultural diversity and a strong commitment to the values shared by all Europeans."
Although concerned over the Turkish findings in this year's Transatlantic Trends survey, which showed only 40% of Turks viewing EU membership as a good thing, Rehn remained optimistic that an "unequivocal commitment to Turkey joining [the EU] once it meets the conditions" will contribute to a more open and democratic Turkish society. He also emphasized the strategic importance of Turkish accession to other EU member states and stressed that Turkey is part of the solution to many concerns facing Europe, including climate change, economic competitiveness, and the question of pipeline placement.
The discussion of Turkey ended by touching upon European concerns surrounding Turkish EU membership to a mainly American audience. He compared the European fear of Turkish accession to the reaction many Americans might have if a 2008 U.S. presidential candidate were to propose making Mexico the 51st state for reasons of strategic interest. He said much of the debate surrounding Turkey is actually an extension of the internal EU debate on migration, in that Turkish accession could lead to further unwanted immigration. The EU labor market and demographic profile will have changed vastly by the time of Turkish accession, and that the EU has the tools to address any potential problems.
Commissioner Rehn followed his discussion of Turkey by turning to one of the most important issues on the transatlantic agenda right now, Kosovo. He urged Europeans and Americans to cooperate and focus on a sustainable outcome in the Kosovo negotiation process. A successful outcome in Kosovo is important to the stability of the entire region, which includes a functioning economy and sustainable institutions. While the European Commission is preparing to provide financial, technical, and political support, Rehn stressed that it is the local leaders who will need to take full responsibility for the future of Kosovo. He reiterated the important roll EU enlargement plays in state-building and economic development, which "will be vital to ensuring Kosovans can stand on their own feet as the international community withdraws."
Rehn briefly highlighted the Commission's effort to advance the European agenda in Serbia. He informed the audience that the Commission hopes to conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement this fall, allowing Serbia to move forward, "from nationalism of the past to the European future."
Commissioner Rehn compared the current efforts of Serbia and Kosovo to re-join the European mainstream to the struggles of Central and Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall; at both times the prospect of EU membership has served as a beacon of light. He ended by underlining his faith in the "bright future for EU enlargement."
After the initial presentation, Commissioner Rehn addressed a number of audience questions regarding issues such as the status of reforms in new EU countries, the effect of Kosovo negotiations on the Russian-EU relationship, Croatia's potential for EU membership, and the interplay of democracy and the Muslim faith in Turkey, in addition to elaborating on many of the points touched on in his opening presentation.