Are We All Absorbed?

I have just left Brussels, stopping over at Heathrow airport before proceeding on the last flight of the day to New York.

But – all in all – it was a very good conference in Brussels yesterday and today.

A discussion before lunch today on the so called European social model was noteworthy for hardly mentioning unemployment, instead focusing almost exclusively on ”employment protection”, but other panels were broader in their approach.

The hard thruth is that if you fail in employment creation, then employment protection becomes just a defensive game that is bound to increase social tensions in society.

It’s when you are succesful with employment creation that there can also be meaningful employment protection.

But the afternoon’s discussion was about enlargement, asking the queastion whether the magic can work again.

Magic it certainly was. Javier Solana underlined it, and I tried to reinforce his words. The enlargement with 100 million people and 10 nations from Estonia to Bulgaria can well be described as Europe’s finest hour in modern times.

And we are all benefiting from it. I argued that the European economy is become globally more competitive as a result of enlargement. No one among the large gathering in the Charlemagne building seemed to disagree.

There are those trying to slow down things. European Voice reports in its issue out today about some proposals prior to the informal gathering of EU foreign ministers next week.

It all centers on the concept of ”absorption capacity”.

I’m not certain what this means. Is Sweden ”absorbed” by the European Union? Is France ”absorbed” in the same way? The concept is a rather strange one – I don’t think we really want to be ”absorbed”.

Key must be what the addition of new countries adds to the Unions capabilities or powers – or, possible, subtracts from them. That’s the truly relevant criteria.

France or Sweden might not be ”absorbed”, by the Union – not to mention Britain – but they have all certainly added to the Union in a number of different ways. Europe is stronger – more or less – with them as members.

There is, in my opinion, very little reason to doubt that future enlargement would change the fundamental pattern of adding to the capabilities and powers of the Union of previous enlargement. There is every reason to believe the contrary.

This is the real debate we need – not one that centers around the somewhat strange concept of ”absorption capacity”.

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