European enlargement will spell unpredictability for the Caribbean The view from Europe
By David Jessop
Stabroek News
April 4, 2004

Related Links: Articles on the Caribbean
Letters Menu Archival Menu

In a little under thirty daystime, the European Union (EU) will increase dramatically in size. From a grouping of fifteen member states it will grow on May 1 toan economic bloc of twenty- five countries with a population of 454 million people. As the year goes on, Europe will have a new President, a newly elected Parliament and an enlarged College of Commis-sioners - the senior figures who are responsible for developing and delivering policy.

Put another way, the Europe that the Caribbean has grown up with will cease. In its place will be a union with a radically different relationship to the Caribbean and other relatively marginal regions of the world.

The consequence of enlargement for the Caribbean is that it may well make unpredictable the outcome of many of the important decisions that Europe has to make in the next three years on matters that affect the region. These include decisions that will shape future EU policy on bananas, sugar and rice, the line taken on international trade negotiations and on financial services and tax policy. There is also the probability that as the new member states become fully engaged in the politics of Europe, the EU approach to security, development priorities, defence, governance and a host of other technical issues may change in ways that affect the Caribbean.

This process of enlargement has been under way since the start of 2000 but has largely been ignored by Caribbean governments and industries. There has been little contact with the accession states and few attempts to try to understand how a Europe of twenty-five states will arrive at decisions on issues that matter to the region. The incomprehension is mutual. Eastern capitals and their diplomatic representatives do not understand the challenges that face the Caribbean while the region knows little of what drives thinking in the accession states.

The ten new members - Poland, Hungary, Malta, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Slovenia - have, with the partial exception of Malta, no significant historic, political, economic or cultural reason to have an interest in the Caribbean. Some may have minimal levels of trade or an embryonic tourism market, but few have any interest in, capacity or need to care about Caribbean issues. Moreover, the three further candidate countries, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania each have their own development and poverty agendas that they hope that Europe will prioritise.

As the years proceed, EU voting patterns, objectives and budgets will change. Inevitably Europe's centre of gravity will swing to the east and in doing so the attention of those European nations that the Caribbean has traditionally thought of as its closest allies will be further diverted.

Historically, EU member states with little interest in the region have tended to accept the views of Britain, France, Spain and to a lesser extent the Netherlands, on Caribbean issues because of their understanding based on history and close contact. But there are signs that each of these friends of the Caribbean has been reviewing policy and developing newer global approaches that better fit national self-interest. Enlargement, concerns about security, changing global trade patterns and the pervasive global influence of the US are causing Paris, Madrid and London to redefine their interests in ways that may further marginalise the region.

This should be especially worrying in the case of the United Kingdom, the nation that many EU member states defer to in relation to the anglophone Caribbean.

Last November, Britain, the Caribbean's strongest ally in Europe, published a ten-year strategy paper that set out the priorities that will drive future foreign policy and determine how it uses its limited resources.

The document placed a substantial emphasis on the development of a new foreign policy agenda; security; proliferation; terrorism; and the divisive nature of ideology and religion and the tension this may cause in and with certain states. It also sought to find ways to address changing economic relationships, the continuing dominance of the United States and the EU's role in international affairs. It pointed to Africa becoming an increasingly urgent regional priority, second only to the Middle East. The strategy paper also makes clear that as the United Kingdom becomes a net importer of energy, it will become increasingly reliant on sources in areas that are not wholly stable.

In geographic terms it placed emphasis on strengthening a number of key relationships. These include those at the United Nations; with the European Union; the United States; the EU/US relationship; in NATO; and with other global players, including Russia, China, Japan and India. The document recognised also the potential significance of Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Subsequent clarifications suggest that British policy towards the Caribbean will in future most likely be driven by issues relating to security and the need to ensure good governance and stability in the UK's five overseas territories in the region. The policy, it seems, is likely to see a greater concentration on cross-cutting themes at the expense of geographical concerns.

While there will be opportunities in the coming months for Caribbean foreign ministers to discuss these and other issues directly with leading members of the British government, the general sense in London is that over time the voice of the Caribbean is likely to be taken less and less account of unless it can find new ways of projecting its concerns.

At an all EU level the situation is even more serious. Thinking about Europe's place in the world is changing. The post-colonial relationships are largely meaningless to the vast majority of member states. Their concerns are focused elsewhere. As the balance of power in Europe changes so too will policies that once favoured or gave preference to those nations that had historic ties with Europe. The Caribbean is in urgent need of a strategy as to how to ensure a Europe of twenty-five will listen not only in the current round of trade negotiations but once they have been completed.

Editor's note: The next View from Europe will appear in our edition of April 25.