28 November 2009


By: Nicholas Newman
Where does Europe end - is a question of growing concern to many Europeans, especially with the entry of Bulgaria and Rumania, and the prospect of Turkey’s entry, in 2012.

This vital political question was the topic under discussion at a recent European Studies Centre seminar at Oxford University, led by Graham Avery (Honorary Director General, European Commission) and Baskin Oran (University of Ankara).

How to define Europe is problematic, both Graham and Baskin agreed. It depends on which set of criteria is preferred. Amongst the sets of criteria most often used are by:

Having contiguous borders with other European states.
Common cultural heritage.
Current and future levels of economic, social and political development.
Political imperatives.
Taking these criteria into account, let’s look at some potential entrants.

Take geography for instance, a country like Russia some would argue is both a European and Asiatic state, since it lies on both continents.

However, Georgia, which hopes, someday, to join the EU, shares at present no contiguous borders with any EU state.

As for history, ‘Turkey has a good claim being both a former imperial province of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, unlike modern day Poland,’ Baskin Oran noted.

Then there is the matter of religion, if the condition that a country must be a predominantly Christian country. Then, Turkey’s Moslem heritage means it fails to meet the grade.

Looking at potential states that share a similar cultural heritage, then perhaps New Zealand, Australia and Canada should be considered.

However, in terms of current and future prospects of economic, social and political development, then both Switzerland and Norway would be welcomed with open arms. ‘In fact, it would be the quickest accession process, in the EU’s history,’ Graham Avery remarked.

Then, lastly, there is the political imperative, as Europe’s energy security concerns grow in importance, with it increasingly dependent on imported energy. Possibly, despite Europe’s many valid misgivings, Brussels may well have to in the future change its mind and welcome countries like Turkey into the EU, for the sake of energy security.

Just as there are disagreements as to what defines Europe there are, in fact, different types of Europe in operation today, such as:

Schengen Area (an agreement that abolished frontier controls between member states and the establishment of a common external border).
Euro Zone Area (is made up of EU states that share the € as a common currency).
European Union (a supranational economic and political body, made up of currently 25, soon to be 27 European states, based in Brussels.
European Free Trade Area (an economic trading area made up of Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland).
European Economic Area (a common customs union and free trade area made up of EU and EFTA member states).
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (a mutual defence pact made up of European and North American nations, based in Brussels).
Even when countries fulfil many of the criteria, at present they are deemed by the Commission not to be ready to start the long accession process to entry.

Graham commented. ‘Take the Balkan problem children of Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania, they have much to put right, before they can apply. It will be a while before they will be allowed to start the accession process, though, Croatia, once it sorts out a few political problems, should be able to start the joining process in a few years.’ As for Russia, it will be at least a decade before Russia is likely to consider seriously joining. Then, it will be for geo-political concerns, caused by a desperate decline in its population and the need to improve its standing against the rising power of China.

So why are European leaders like Tony Blair, Angela Merkel so in favour of further EU enlargement. Putting it simply, they see enlargement as acting as a catalyst for both economic and political reform that Brussels needs to make to ensure future prosperity and stability of the continent.

Say, is the EU ready for further enlargement, given the referendums in both France and Holland defeated the implementation of the new European Constitutional document. Though it is clear, that this put various reforms of the EU behind schedule, nevertheless, it has not stopped many of the necessary measures being moved forward. In fact, many now argue the document was not necessary to meet the larger reform aims of the EU.

So, after considering the criteria, what does make a European state? This is clearly a complicated, perhaps a personal decision.

 1st Aerials Oxford




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