Press Releases Enlargement then and now: A geopolitical investment in peace and security – Speech by President Charles Michel for the 20th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement

Enlargement then and now: A geopolitical investment in peace and security – Speech by President Charles Michel for the 20th anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement

The fall of the Iron Curtain brought the rise of the great enlargement. It brought ten new Member States into our Union. 2004 marked the reunification of a divided continent. Today, twenty years on, war is back in Europe. The next wave of enlargement is once again a date with history, a geopolitical imperative.

In the early 2000s, we were still excited by the hope generated by the collapse of the Soviet empire. It was, you remember, the ‘end of history’, we thought and the definitive rise of democracies announced by Fukuyama and others.

A single hyperpower, the United States, dominated the world. A new power — not yet a “hyperpower” — was emerging and it was being watched with admiration and excitement, China. This was the atmosphere at that time, a peace project in peacetime. Since 2004, 13 new members joined our Union.

Looking back, what were the motivations behind this great accession? For the new Member States, it was a fierce desire to become part of this world of freedom and prosperity. They would no longer be the Western part of the East, but rather the Eastern part of the West.

“Europe” was much more than a geography, “Europe” is an idea, is a dream, a journey, a beacon of hope.

We must never forget the determination of the candidate countries at the time. You made accession your North Star and you aligned your policies, and your hearts, with this common strategic goal. It was spectacular.

On the other side, what motivated the European Union? It was our moral obligation to meet the call of history but it was also in our strategic interest. At that time, many doubted the EU’s ability to integrate populations and economies of more than 100 million people. But we rose to the challenge by being smart and pragmatic. and by building transitions, for instance in the field of agriculture and mobility.

The big enlargement of 2004 was a transformative event for our continent. For the new members, joining our EU family has been a powerful engine for more prosperity, the spectacular rise of their GDP is the best proof.

In the EU, the “big bang enlargement” has given us more global clout. Our internal market is the largest in the world and we have become the second largest global trading power in goods, after China and ahead of the US. This has given us more weight and a stronger position in international fora such as the G7 and G20. And more impact in promoting our democratic values our social and environmental standards.

The optimism of 2004 seems long ago. Today we face three major shocks.

First, the shock facing our natural world: climate change and biodiversity.

Second, the shock of technology: the digital revolution and artificial intelligence, and the impact on our societies.

And third, the shock of a chaotic geopolitical transition.

The world is moving from one hyperpower to a multipolar system. The European Union is one of the world’s three major blocs. Inward-looking tendencies are taking shape in various ways — through protectionism, nationalism, survival of the fittest, etc.

The current rules-based order is certainly not perfect but it is meant to play a stabilising role. Today this world order is being shaken and it’s happening right here on our European soil. Russia is waging war against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. And Russia’s war is not limited to the skies and trenches of Ukraine.

The EU, its candidate countries, and even Africa are subject to the Kremlin’s hybrid attacks. Migrants, money, and fake news are being weaponised by Russia to destabilise. The Kremlin has a clear goal — to crush the European dream. Why? Because the Kremlin is terrified of freedom and democracy on its doorstep.

The European Union has a lot going for it. Almost half a billion people living in advanced societies. Our Union is an economic, scientific, innovative, and cultural giant and with future enlargements, and more sovereignty, it will become even more so.

The EU is also the greatest area of freedom and opportunity on this planet, we have a positive image in the world, we are seen as an honest player, with no hidden agenda and willing to work with anyone. This allows us to play a positive, respected, and stabilising role in global governance.

But we must avoid the trap of double standards. Each civilian human life has the same value, all peoples have the same right to freedom and dignity. In Ukraine, in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.

For decades, we have taken peace, security, and prosperity for granted and all the while, we were becoming over-dependent. On energy from Russia, on critical raw materials from China and even on defence from the US. And we have allowed a dangerous gap to develop between our competitiveness and that of our main competitors. So now, we must make up for lost time.

We have a strategy: it is called European sovereignty or Strategic autonomy. Sovereignty means getting stronger, more influential, and being more in control of our destiny.

Our sovereignty is based on 3 pillars:

First, democratic values and democratic principles: dignity, this is the foundation of this political common project

Second, we must build a strong and more competitive economy. The Single Market has been neglected, we must free its full potential. Talking about a geopolitical Union is not enough we must take action: less red tape, less reports, less monitoring, less suspicion and more trust and freedom for our entrepreneurs. Deepening our Capital Markets Union is also essential. Every year, some 300 billion euros of our citizens’ savings flee to the US, and are not invested here at home. Competitiveness and a true Capital Markets Union — this must be the first task of the next European Commission.

And third, we must build our defence readiness. We all understand that security and defence are not theoretical, and it is important to develop our own tools, our own capability  and reinforce our industrial defence capacity. We must invest more in Europe and develop European flagship projects, like the Iron Dome, for instance.

Enlargement is a cornerstone of our sovereignty strategy and we, candidate countries and EU Institutions, have a lot of work to do. And I repeat my strong belief: we must be ready — on both sides — by 2030 to enlarge. For candidate countries, this means making the necessary reforms and solving all bilateral disputes. On the EU side, it means reforming our programs and budgets, and our decision-making.

The European Council is discussing these issues in the context of our strategic agenda and of our internal reform programme.

I would like to highlight three points from our enlargement experience.

First, we must live up to our shared political ambition, with steely determination and bring our people, and their hearts, with us.

Second, there is a common European interest which is much more than the sum of our national interests.

Third, let’s imagine for a moment how would a smaller and weaker EU, with only 15 member states, have faced Russia’s war against Ukraine? A new Iron Curtain in the East would have emerged, Russia would have occupied these countries — at least ideologically and politically and the EU would have been much more vulnerable. It is chilling to imagine.

Unity and solidarity, these are always our best assets. In 2004, our predecessors understood the scale of the challenge, their goal was to reunite a continent scarred by centuries of war and division.

Today, the test of our generation is to make this Europe stronger, more sovereign, more influential, more integrated, and even more united. We are on the doorstep of another historic moment for our Union, we have a date with history, let’s take it with both hands. Thank you.

Read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *