Happy Anniversary to the Class of 2004

Ten years ago to the day, on May 1st 2004, ten countries became new members of the European Union: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta. That was the most sweeping round of enlargement ever, and it marked a historic achievement. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain and German reunification this predominantly Central and Eastern European accession round ratified the end of the deep division between the two halves of Europe, that had existed since the days of Yalta. Europe became united to a dimension never before seen in history. And it was a Europe democratic, free and at peace.

I wonder why there is not much more celebration today, ten years later. Does this fact demonstrate, that we Europeans have lost our sense of history to a degree that makes us even negligent of an anniversary of such momentous change? Or are we captivated by a sense of frustration over the obvious loss of steam and direction and enthusiasm for the European project that we have experienced over the last ten years?

In a way, that 2004 European reunification meant the loss of a vision, that had guided the European integration project over many decades. The vision had been that some day Europe would be one, whole, free and at peace. That vision basically became a reality in 2004. Sure, there remained several countries in the Balkans, but they would over time follow suite. There remained Turkey, over which the European public as well as policy makers were deeply divided, and the Ukraine and Belarus and, of course, Russia, where no one had a clear idea regarding the future development of their relationship with the European Union. And there remained Switzerland and Norway, two very rich countries, which were sure to follow the European bandwagon even if they continued to resist any temptation of joining the EU formally. But in geo-political, ideological, philosophical and historical terms, the very fact that the four nations in the eastern half of the continent, that had fought the hardest to overcome the order of Yalta – the Polish, the Hungarians, the Czechs and the Slovaks – joined the European Union, testified to the new reality: Europe had become one.

However, out of this new reality arose a new question. Where would Europe go from here? Just implementing a few additional accessions step by step would not provide a sufficient sense of direction and purpose. And, like in everyday life, in the European reality also the materialisation of the vision would prove to be less glorious, magnificent and shining and instead more laborious and sometimes troublesome than the vision as such has been. As of 2004 the European Union needed to revisit and redefine and reinvigorate its core narrative. Enlargement would have, as we have learned since the European Crisis broke, necessitated more political integration of our Union. But the last bite had been so big and the attractiveness of the recipes that European leaders were able to offer was so limited, that there was just not enough appetite for the inner reforms that should have been put on the agenda.

One decade and one deep European Crisis later some of the worries that existed at the time can now be put to rest. There are still obvious differences between Old West and New East, but they have not become the dominating contradiction within the Union. It is by virtue of their own policy decisions and not just by virtue of geography and heritage, that the success of individual member states is being determined. Six of the ten that joined in 2004 have since also adopted the Euro as their currency. Poland, the most populous and powerful among the new entries, is playing a very important, sometimes even a leading role in the EU concert. All the newcomers have experienced a high level of European solidarity, that helped them transform. On the other hand not all hopes have borne fruit. In Hungary for instance, some of the core principles of rule of law, democracy and republican order are being flouted by the day, and the Union proves to be hardly capable of doing very much about it. With regard to European climate policy, that Greens make so much effort in promoting, none of the newcomers has proven to share our ambitions. So what is a grand and remaining achievement in general terms, is very much a mixed bag on the ground.

Within the Green family parties from the member states that joined 2004 are also showing mixed success. In Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus, Greens have been elected to parliament or even represented in government – at least for some time. Presently however, only LMP in Hungary can proudly boast of having their own political group in the parliament, and on the level of the European Parliament, no Green has ever represented any of the ten new member states. We do, of course, hope that we will be able to overcome the latter deficiency in the upcoming European elections.

Owing to the pressures from internal and external crises, to very fundamental changes in international relations, and not least to the willingness of most European citizens and elites to continue with the European integration project, the European Union will grow together much more over the next ten years, than it has over the last ten. The class of 2004 will play a very influential role in drafting and realizing the policies, that are needed on that way. Revisiting, redefining and reinvigorating the European narrative is still a task on our agenda. In pursuing that task we cannot afford not to look back. When I do look back on the last ten years, that makes me optimistic for the future. Europe has not ground to a hold at the presumed end of its history. Europe is still making history. And it is better equipped to do that, because Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta joined the Union in 2004 and because Rumania, Bulgaria and Croatia have joined since.

Happy anniversary!