New EU Offers Broadened Investment

March 14, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — The 15-country European Union anticipates the addition of 10 new member countries by May of next year, and with that historic step it will grow from 374 million to nearly one-half billion inhabitants and will expand its boundaries to the Russian border.

What will the expansion mean to American business?

“American investors should not fear anything. We are not creating Fortress Europe,” said Willy Helin, head of press and public affairs at the European Commission Delegation in Washington, D.C.

“On the contrary, we are the most open partner in the world in terms of imports. We are going to add those 10 countries to yet a broader single market, which will broaden the base for American investment.”

The EU is an economic and political association comprised of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The 10 candidate countries likely to join next year are Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The newcomers already have or are in the process of adapting their legislation to existing European Union legislation.

“Do they have a democratic system? That’s the litmus test,” said Helin, who discussed “the New Europe” at the World Affairs Council’s Great Decisions Foreign Policy Lecture Series this month.

How will the New Europe unfold? Will it take the form of a confederation or a federal system similar to the United States? Will there be a European Constitution?

Those are the big unanswered questions that member countries are now debating, he said.

“We have no clue now which kind of a system we’re going to establish. But we need to come to grips with that; we need to have our voice heard in the world much more as one. Across the board, Europe needs to get its act together.

“Citizens on both sides of the Atlantic, I think, have the same notion of what a modern state is. According to the polls I see around the country here and around the countries in Europe, they want exactly that.”

The financial and economic integration of Europe’s markets is already complete.

The euro became legal tender in 12 of the present 15 member countries in January 2002 and the move to a single currency has been “the most gigantic step in European integration” since the European Union was formed in 1950, Helin said.

When all is said and done, the monetary integration will likely prove to have been the smoothest part of the whole transition, he said.

“We do have all the ingredients; it’s simply now for someone to bring in the final ingredient to have the European Union become a real entity or political body speaking with one voice toward the rest of the world.”

The new Europe-in-the-making will require a streamlined decision process for its external security, defense and diplomacy policies, Helin said.

He guesses that will probably be the toughest hurdle  — establishing a common foreign policy or at least a joint foreign policy. Part of that will be deciding whether there’s going to be a single defense security concept for Europe and, if so, what it will mean for the transatlantic community.

The United States and Europe have been battling side by side for years against the rest of the world to achieve compliance with internationally accepted trade rules, he pointed out, and trade will remain a close bond.

He said there is not political animosity toward American business in Europe stemming from the threat of the war with Iraq.

“Excuse my French; that’s rubbish,” he said. “People who would say that either here or in Europe don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s as clear as that. Why? Every single day there is 1 billion dollars worth, or euro worth, of trade going from one side of the Atlantic to the other and that’s just for starters.”

Direct European investment in Michigan, for example, created 160,000 jobs in the state in 2001, he said. Add to that 40,000 jobs in Michigan created by companies that export to Europe.

Presently, Europe creates in the neighborhood of 6.5 million jobs in America. And there is not one key partnership in the world that surpasses or will ever surpass the transatlantic community between Europeans and Americans, Helin said.

The level of investment is already there; it can’t be denied and can’t be undone, he said. And despite what’s being said in some U.S. newspapers, the central interest is the end consumer and his freedom of choice, he added.

“We have our squabbles and tensions can build, but we share the same values and the same idea of democracy. We should stop talking as though each of us wants to impose his system on the other or on the world.

“We should stop criticizing each other based on our misconceptions of the other guy’s system, and that goes for Europeans, too. We don’t want to impose our system on Americans and neither should they try to impose theirs on us. We all have to think multi-polarized.”

Helin said he doesn’t believe European governments would ban any American products as a form of political retaliation against a war in Iraq. The European Commission simply would not accept that kind of attitude, he noted.

He said polls show 70 percent of both Americans and Europeans say they would only agree to war with Iraq if the United Nations and the broadest possible coalition firmly backed it.

“We have a tendency in Europe to think that a war is not evitable. Are we therefore wimps? Are we therefore minions of Saddam Hussein? There’s not one single government in Europe that condones the Saddam Hussein regime. There’s not one single government in Europe that doesn’t agree that that regime ought to be disarmed.”           

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