Saturday, 18 September 2004

Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Brussels' Door

Meet Anna Zaborska, a typical exponent of the contingent of new Eastern European members of the European Parliament. She has outspoken ideas about abortion (or rather, against abortion), homosexuality (she stated that she wouldn’t want anyone dancing about naked at a gay pride parade to be a teacher at her child’s primary school), taxation, public spending and regulation (no, no, no). Imagine the outrage among Old Europe’s elites when Zaborska was confirmed as president of the Parliament’s Women’s Committee. British Labour MEP Mary Honeyball spoke for many of them when she complained that “the right put forward a candidate who is clearly unsympathetic to the aims of our committee.” The aims, of course, being regulation, regulation and regulation.

Some left-wing MEPs decided to boycott the confirmation vote on Zaborska’s appointment. That futile gesture is symbolic of Old Europe’s response to the seismic shift currently under way in European politics: they turn their back on it and hope for it to go away. To get an idea of the size of the cultural shockwaves enlargement is likely to cause, try to imagine an American Union that consists only of the states above the Mason-Dixon Line – a sort of Sweden on steroids, with regulation-happy liberal politicians of the Kerry/Edwards variety benevolently ruling over every aspect of the lives of their subjects – in close cooperation with the labor unions, of course. Now imagine this northern social-democratic paradise being forced to accept the membership of the southern conservative no-government Sunbelt states. Do you get the picture?

Most of Old Europe evidently still doesn’t get it. It’s in for a rude awakening. Zaborska may be a little eccentric by Western European standards, but her views are squarely in the mainstream of Eastern Europe’s electorates. The arrival of the Eastern European awkward squad will have far-reaching consequences for Europe’s policy-making process. Discussions used to focus exclusively on the scope of legislation. No one ever doubted Europe’s right to legislate on any given topic. Enlargement has changed all that. Debate now is not about how much regulation is required, but about whether regulation is required at all. In the past, the likely compromise was between the minimum and the maximum in regulation. The Eastern European presence means that more often than not any compromise now will have to be between the bare minimum and no regulation at all.

At a recent dinner event sponsored by the Brussels-based think-tank Centre for the New Europe (CNE), former Polish Prime Minister Jan Bielecki gave his audience an insight into just how ambitious Eastern Europe’s free-market reformers really are. In Eastern Europe, he explained, there are no Mods, only Rockers. The Rockers come in two varieties: the older Rolling Stones generation, which cut its teeth in the dissident movements in the communist era, and the new Guns ‘N’ Roses generation of politicians in their late 30s and early 40s whose earliest political memories are of Reagan, Thatcher and the revolution which ended 40 years of communist tyranny. Bielecki described this Guns ‘N’ Roses generation as more ambitious and less willing to compromise than the older Stones generation.

Politicians like Estonia’s Prime Minister Juhan Parts, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Hungary’s once and future Prime Minister Victor Orban and Poland’s next Prime Minister Jan Rokita are at the forefront of a group of young politicians that will try to bring Eastern Europe’s revolutionary free-market conservative beliefs to Brussels. Together, they will be in prime position to push Europe’s agenda in a different direction – less Sweden, more Texas.

In the field of economic policy-making, Eastern Europe’s accession to the EU’s internal market is already leading to previously unthinkable results. The threat of further outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to Eastern Europe has put the return to a 40-hour working week (or 36 hours in France) firmly on the agenda in Western Europe. Equally firmly off the agenda are subjects like tax harmonization and further labor market regulation.

In the field of defense and international relations, the Guns ‘N’ Roses gang will push Europe steadily in the direction of a stronger transatlantic relationship. They are not interested in a European Union that tries to define itself in opposition to the US. Similarly, they are not interested in a European Middle-East policy that simply sees the Palestinians as the good guys and the Israelis as the bad guys. Whether it is because of the influence of US diplomacy, the historical legacy of the Holocaust or a natural affinity with a country that tries to survive against the odds and in spite of the presence of menacing neighbors, Eastern Europe’s politicians are much more sympathetic towards Israel’s cause than their Western European counterparts.

The original Guns ‘N’ Roses politician, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, famously defended his decision to fire a number of his communist-era civil servants by stating that “sometimes it’s just not possible to teach old dogs new tricks.” Old Europe is about to find out that the same is true of Eastern Europe’s young dogs. They’re not interested in learning how to be “constructive” and “cooperative” if that means accepting Old Europe’s outdated regulatory socialist policies. Jacques Chirac may not like it, but the Guns ‘N’ Roses gang will probably miss a lot more opportunities to shut up. Who knows, they may even end up making European politics interesting. Now that would be revolutionary!

By Joshua Livestro

This article first appeared on http://www.TechCentralStati…