A Little More Finalité

Thanks to everyone who commented on the Finalité Revisited essay. So much substance in the discussion that I wanted to highlight some of it in a post, instead of just replying in comments.

Three thoughts from my side: First, the name of the initial post hearkens back to a debate about the final shape and structure of the European Union, a debate that was a lot more active in the early 2000s than it is today. Geographic finalité was the counterpart of institutional finalité, both tied to the apparently eternal debate on widening vs deepening. (My short answer on that one is both-and, rather than either-or.) Through the constitutional convention, the draft constitutional treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, many of the institutional questions that so exercised a Union changing from 12 to 27 members have been settled. It’s too soon to say how the new approaches, such as the External Action Service or the permanent presidency of the Council, will work over the longer term, but they have moved from the debating to the testing stage in the European experiment.

When the geographic and institutional debates were moving along in parallel, the geographic possibilities informed the institutional design. How can institutions that were built for twelve (or in some cases six) members be adapted for a Union of nearly forty? Now that the institutional questions are as settled as they ever are within the EU, the geographic question stands alone. Leaders and publics can know the EU’s institutions, and make choices about relations without needing to speculate too much about what the EU might become.

Second, I’ve thought about potential members from the outside in. That is, where are ideas such as “return to Europe,” “part of Europe,” or “European vocation” part of the political discourse? Where these ideas find little purchase among leaders or opposition is where the outer border of the European Union will find its natural place. Iran, for example. As I mentioned in comments, “I think … Russia’s leaders see their country’s peers in Europe as either the EU itself, or at a stretch some of the EU’s largest member states.” Turkey, by contrast, has an active membership application, increasing interactions and a domestic discourse about the country’s “European vocation.” Those aspects point to eventual membership. To be sure, Turkey has plenty of work to do, but the greater hurdle will be for leaders of current members. We’ve had discussions on Turkish membership before, and I know that opinion varies.

I know a lot less about the South than I do about the East, so please feel free to chime in. Are there Mediterranean states where the rhetoric of a “return to Europe” or a “European vocation” is important?

Third, there is the question of gray zones. In the debates preceding the 2004 enlargement, this question was often raised and generally counted in favor of EU enlargement. It was difficult then to see how having a group of countries along the EU’s borders with uncertain international alignment would be beneficial to the Union. It applies again, especially in relation to arguments that some aspiring countries should never be admitted: How does leaving some countries in a halfway house, or on the outside trying to get in, benefit the EU? It’s as important to face the costs of inaction as it is to face the costs of action.

One question that came up often in comments was about territorial disputes – Serbia/Kosovo, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Georgia, etc. – and I am undecided about this matter. For one thing, many of the current members have territorial arrangements that are not entirely orthodox (Channel Isles, overseas bits of Netherlands and France, Ceuta & Melilla), in dispute (Gibraltar), were hotly contested in the recent past (Northern Ireland), are the source of armed conflicts in varying degrees of intensity (Basque country, Corsica) and so on. Clearly, EU membership and territorial peculiarities are not incompatible.

Further, it’s possible to read the Cyprus example both ways: either that the EU should not bring in a member with active territorial disputes (as the current criteria have it) or that a territorial dispute makes very little difference to the quality of EU membership. For a time it looked as if membership prospects would be sufficient to get Cypriots to resolve their partition. It wasn’t, and they haven’t, but has the EU really suffered as a result?

That is part of the reason I wrote about the centrality of large-state entrants. An EU that can look forward to Turkish membership is one that is unlikely to be terribly fussed about fewer than 50,000 South Ossetians and some gorgeous but unproductive mountain valleys.

To answer some specific questions from commenters: Kosovo. I don’t know enough to say. I can see a logic to admitting it at the same time as Serbia, but I don’t know if Kosovo’s application will have advanced enough. It would be member 42, presuming that neither Norway nor Switzerland has opted for membership by then.

Georgia and Armenia in different groups. I wrote that in 2004, in the rush of momentum following Georgia’s Rose Revolution. I don’t have them in different groups in my current list.

Doug M., any updated views on Transnistria? Since you say “not for a generation” in relation to several countries, I wonder if you can put a number on that expression. Twenty? More? In the cases of Ukraine and Belarus, my “ten years after they sort themselves out” (which is admittedly optimistic, it may be more like 15 years after any such sorting) probably amounts to the same thing.

And Azerbaijan as probably never because neither leadership nor opposition has the European vocation? Likewise Armenia? I’d say that Georgian belief is eventual membership is a good reason to expect that it will eventually happen.

It’s unlikely that this will be the last word on finalité.

13 thoughts on “A Little More Finalité

  1. I just can’t see how the most pro-Kosovo countries in Europe would allow Serbia to join without Kosovo at the same time – for surely once a member Serbia could just veto Kosovo’s membership perpetually. I can’t see any way round that than letting them in at the same time (unless we were somehow prepared to make Serbia a second-class member by removing their power of veto of that subject). Will be interesting to see how they handle that – because as you say this could either involve making Serbia wait longer or admitting Kosovo prematurely.

    Re. the Cyprus issue – I’ve read (although annoyingly I can’t remember where) that there are several states that now think letting a divided Cyprus in was a big mistake, as now they have the prize it removes the incentive for them to sort the problem out.

  2. It could be made a condition of accession that Serbia renounce its claims to Kosovo and/or accept some kind of international arbitration. Of course Serbia could respond to this by withdrawing its membership application, but them’s the breaks.

    As for Russia, there’s a long lag between real power and imagined power. It’s something you still notice with Britain and France as well, but the collapse of Russia’s empire is far more recent and even at its current population, it seems too big. Then again, if Russia thinks it’s on a par with two big EU states added together, that’s probably about right. There’s also no reason in principle (besides historical baggage) that Russia can’t join NATO.

    While we’re discussing long-shot candidates: let’s suppose the US gets all protectionist, abandons NAFTA, and offers fairly unfavourable terms to goods and migrants from north of the border. Could Canada (+ Quebec if it’s independent) contemplate joining the EU, and if it did, would the EU accept it? The main argument against Canada from an EU perspective, as I see it, is the same one de Gaulle used against the UK.

  3. Betting against the Telegraph view in matters European is pretty much always a winning proposition.

  4. Transnistria is by far the least dangerous of the frozen conflicts; there’s basically zero chance of it producing a military conflict. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly tractable otherwise, though. I suspect that in the long run, demographic change — specifically, the slow steady trickle of Russians out of Transnistria into Russia — will make holding on to it a bit less interesting for Moscow. But it’s not going to resolve any time soon.

    Armenia and Azerbaijan both seem to lack the European “vocation” that you speak of — an interesting notion, though perhaps a bit on the vague side.

    South Ossetia has already produced two shooting wars in 20 years. So that raises it to be a rather more serious problem, despite its relative small size. The EU really doesn’t want to buy a war.

    “Not for a generation” = well over 20 years. 25, let’s say. Making predictions that far out gets into unicorn territory! But I have trouble imagining scenarios in which Belarus or Ukraine find membership faster than that. (Ukraine is currently swimming /away/ from membership about as fast as it possibly can.)

    Doug M.

  5. “many of the current members have territorial arrangements that are not entirely orthodox (Channel Isles, overseas bits of Netherlands and France, Ceuta & Melilla), in dispute (Gibraltar), were hotly contested in the recent past (Northern Ireland), are the source of armed conflicts in varying degrees of intensity (Basque country, Corsica) and so on. Clearly, EU membership and territorial peculiarities are not incompatible.”

    There’s peculiar and peculiar. Unorthodox arrangements != territorial disputes, so not really relevant here — it’s interesting that the EU has a land border with Brazil, but it’s not a useful comparandum for thinking about Abkhazia. The Gibraltar dispute has been “agree to disagree” since 1980 and that’s very unlikely to change. (Also, nobody of importance supports the Spanish position.) Corsican and Basque separatism, not international disputes — those are internal affairs of the relevant countries.

    “Further, it’s possible to read the Cyprus example both ways: either that the EU should not bring in a member with active territorial disputes (as the current criteria have it) or that a territorial dispute makes very little difference to the quality of EU membership. For a time it looked as if membership prospects would be sufficient to get Cypriots to resolve their partition. It wasn’t, and they haven’t, but has the EU really suffered as a result?”

    Yes. It’s inherited a mess that’s a minor but ongoing complication of EU relations with Turkey — which, even if it were not a candidate, is a large and important neighbor.

    Also, admitting Cyprus in advance of the referendum was, in retrospect, a huge mistake. The dispute was perfectly settle-able, and the Amman Plan was a reasonable settlement. The Greek Cypriots rejected it basically because they could. If acceptance had been the price of membership, they would have accepted it. Instead we’re all going to have to live with a completely stupid and avoidable mess there for many years to come. I don’t see Brussels making that mistake again.

    Doug M.

  6. @ Doug M.

    Firstly it was the Annan plan not Amman. Secondly your premise that if acceptance of the plan was a precondition for EU membership the Greek Cypriots would have accepted it is just a theory not founded on any concrete evidence. Thirdly, you seem to fail to take into account what an acceptance into the EU of a Greek – Turkish Cypriot loose federation as per the Annan plan would have meant for the EU given EU’s unwillingness to allow Turkey entry and Turkey’s complex relationship with northern Cyprus. IMO acceptance of the Annan plan would have postponed Cyprus membership indefinitely.

  7. The Annan Plan may have been the best that the Greek Cypriots could expect, but that doesn’t mean it was a reasonable settlement from the Greek perspective. The restrictions on Greek Cypriot migration to the north alone, never mind the continued stationing of Turkish troops in Cyprus, the non-repatriation of Turkish colonists, and the effective lack of compensation for confiscated policies, made it unacceptable.

    This all speaks to the plausibility of a partitioned Cyprus being the best option.

  8. “continued stationing of Turkish troops”… um. Randy, do you know the story about the Balkan peasant and the genie?

    Current troop levels are about 30,000 Turkish troops and about 20,000 “Cypriot National Guard” on the Greek side. The National Guard is almost entirely symbolic and useless — far too many for a tripwire, not nearly enough to actually stop a Turkish invasion. In order to maintain it, the Greek Cypriots have had to impose mandatory two-year conscription on all young men on their side of the border. It’s a nontrivial drag on their economy.

    (The genie says, “I will grant you anything you wish. But whatever I give you, I will give your neighbor double.”)

    Article VIII of the Annan Plan would have reduced troop levels to 6,000 Turks, another 6,000 Greeks, and a small UN peacekeeping force between them. Excepting those, Cyprus would have been completely demilitarized — no national guard, no army, no paramilitary forces of any sort. (And, of course, no conscription.) Both the Greek and Turkish forces would have been withdrawn upon Turkey’s accession to the EU.

    The whole “oh noes, Turkish troops!! thing is completely nonsensical. It’s an excuse, and a bad one. Don’t buy into it.

    As to partition, that’s still many many years away — it won’t be plausible until most of the survivors of 1974 are dead, and most of the Turks in the north are native-born. Another 20 years, at least, and probably more. I’ll be mildly surprised if I live to see it, though my son might. Meanwhile, both sides continue to suffer a wide range of ill effects — though, of course, the Turkish side suffers more, with the trade embargo and all.

    (The peasant frowns, thinks for a moment, then smiles. “I want you to make me blind — in one eye!”)

    Doug M.

  9. It could be made a condition of accession that Serbia renounce its claims to Kosovo and/or accept some kind of international arbitration. Of course Serbia could respond to this by withdrawing its membership application, but them’s the breaks.

  10. @ Doug: Counting on Turkey’s accession to the European Union was a big flaw in the plan. Latveria likely has a better chance.

    The lack of compensation for Greek Cypriots, and the mobility that Turkish Cypriots would enjoy but not their Greek fellow citizens, is something that killed it. I can understand that Turkish Cypriots would fear being overwhelmed by the more numerous and wealthier Greek Cypriots, but the asymmetry is something that–I think rightly–the Greek Cypriots were concerned with.

  11. I’m not sure where “counting on Turkey’s accession” entered into the conversation. The troops could be withdrawn at any time, by mutual agreement. It’s just that they’d /have to/ be withdrawn if Turkey joined. The drafters thought this would be a clever way to deter a Greek / Cypriot veto of Turkish membership. Too clever by half, as it turned out.

    Something the Cypriots were concerned with: Actually, no, they weren’t. If you go back and look at the discourse in the weeks before the referendum, “mobility” was barely mentioned. Skim a transcript of Papadapolous’ famous speech. In nearly an hour, he spends maybe one minute on stuff like that. Turkish troops, Turkish settlers, the lack of safeguards for Greek Cypriot security, the greatness and nobleness of Greek civilization — those things he goes on at length about. Mobility, not so much.

    (Oh, and reminding Cypriots that they’re going to join the EU no matter which way the vote goes. He makes a point of that.)

    Compensation: this was a huge problem, but property holders would eventually have ended up with something, even if it was pennies on the dollar. They’d have been paid in bonds, which would be paid out of a pool, which would be partly filled by donors but would ultimately be an obligation of the central government. Since there were more Greek than Turkish refugees, and would be more Greek than Turkish taxpayers to the new fisc, the Greeks reasonably pointed out that most of the money to repay refugees would end up coming from Greek pockets. The plan attempted to paper over this by getting commitments from donors to chip in money, but it was clear there wouldn’t be enough to pay more than ten or twenty cents on the dollar.

    It was a real problem — but it was one that could, with a modicum of goodwill, been solved. If compensation were really the issue, “Plan that gives something” would seem better than “Status quo that gives nothing” — after all, it’s been seven years, and nobody’s received a penny of compensation.

    The plain fact is that most Greek Cypriots are tolerably content with the current division of the island, and not at all enthusiastic about sharing power with Turks. That was true in 2004 and it’s even more true today. The current President is trying to move the unification process forward again, but it’s basically a vanity project — he gets lip service but little real support from other power centers on the Greek side. He’s over halfway through his term now, with nothing to show for it, and once he leaves office the whole thing is likely to die a quiet and mostly unmourned death.

    Doug M.

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