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Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Is bigger better for the EU?

As the European Union summit gets under way in Gothenburg, one word is on everyone's mind: expansion.

Sweden, the summit host, was hoping that this week's meeting would set a clear timetable for expansion of the EU to include up to 12 new member states.

The Nice treaty, agreed last year, had paved the way for that. But the Irish people threw a spanner in the works when they rejected the treaty in a referendum on 7 June.

Now the EU has to decide what to do about the Irish No vote, while prospective members wait anxiously for a decision.

But is bigger better for the EU? Should it press ahead with expansion? Or was the Irish vote a call to rethink that strategy?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The EU treatment of the Irish vote has confirmed to all their definition of democracy. Their un-elected officials decide upon a policy and put it to the vote. If the vote is in their favour, then the policy is introduced. If the vote is not in their favour, then they introduce the policy anyway. Long live democracy!
John Gant, UK

They have developed and become valuable markets for our exports

Simon, Belgium (ex-UK)
I am astonished at those British contributors to this debate who complain about the cost of subsidising Eastern European countries through EU expansion. Don't they realise that this cost is far lower than the cost of wars, instability and refugees? I'd rather spend my money helping Eastern Europe become an economic success, than on sending in our army to deal with yet another Bosnia or Kosovo. And have these critics taken a look at Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland? All of these countries were economic basket-cases before they joined the EU. And, yes, the UK helped "subsidise" them. But now, they have developed and become valuable markets for our exports.
Simon, Belgium (ex-UK)

EU expansion is good. The greater the number of cooks, the more likely the broth will be spoiled. More members would make it more difficult to gain consensus. Without consensus, the EU might be left as the free trade community we joined thirty years ago without being able to continually infringe upon our rights and sovereignty.
Charles Macdonald, UK

What is this EU to become? Some of you just want to be bigger to poke your finger into Uncle Sam's eye. I think this dream will come to a halt when the Germans realize how much money they are spending to help France realize its goal of ruling Europe!
Eddie, Houston,Texas

I don't necessarily think that expansion of the EU is a bad thing in itself if it were purely an issue of breaking down trade barriers. However, I hope these new member states are going into this with their eyes wide open with regard to their loss of sovereignty in a few years time. Don't believe what the politicians tell you - a "United States of Europe" is inevitable and the men in grey suits will simply not let referendums or protests (short of a war) stand in their way. I hope I'm wrong but I fear that a Federal Europe is a recipe for a huge (what will be by then 'civil') war somewhere down the line that will make Bosnia look like a playground scrap. Too many diverse ingredients thrown into the pot will not necessarily make a pleasant tasting soup!
Clive, Australia (ex UK)

People on this board from the UK seem to be very right wing; you don't seem to like change. First you want to keep the pound, have no greater involvement in the EU, and now you say you don't want to enlarge the EU. Labour is in power in the UK, it took 18 years for British people to accept change, I hope it won't take another 18 years before the people of the UK realised what is right and support European policies instead of calling them undemocratic. Look at the long term; Eastern Europe is the key to Europe in the "long term ".
Jack Homes, European Union

I have travelled the world in trade fairs and as a company we always said "Where there is trade, there is peace". Where there is trade there is commerce and wealth (Mark Dickinson take note), but where there is none of this there is envy, greed, corruption and poverty for the majority.

As much as I dislike and criticise both the EU in its structure and rules and regulations, I would say that we have all never had it so good, both in terms of economics and peace, and we should make sure that this is extended to those countries that wish to join us in this spirit. There will always be an element of "us but not them". This morning there was a bus and subway strike in Cologne because the buses are likely to be privatised and companies from foreign countries have put in bids which are cheaper than domestic ones! You can't have your cake and eat it! We are in the EU and those are the rules and the wealth generated is for the good of all, not just a chosen few.
Yvonne Kirchgaesser, UK/Germany

Let's try to avoid the polarisation of people into the "yes get bigger" and the "put the barriers up" sides. No doubt there is much scope for EU enlargement but things should slow down until the existing institutions, systems and practical issues of EU membership are fully understood by the people of states that are already a part of it. Perhaps the Irish vote was a shot across the bows of politicians because there is a fear that we don't understand what we have now never mind further expansion.
Dave Lynch, England

Is it any wonder some people feel so frustrated

Tom Bacon, UK
I am infuriated by the whole expansionist cause. Not long ago I wouldn't have minded either way, but the way the EU have ridden roughshod over the democratic decisions made by the Irish referendum has been the final straw. We are supposed to live in a democracy, yet the EU seems to believe it can ignore the vote of the people and, in essence, tell them to "change their minds". Is it any wonder some people feel so frustrated that they believe violence to be the only thing that gets any attention paid to them?
Tom Bacon, UK

Can anyone blame the protesters when the veiws of the people are being ignored. Tony Blair talks about democracy but only if it agrees with his ideas, otherwise it is rubbished by him and his kind.
Mike Watson, England

Claims that an expanded EU will "prevent another Yugoslavia" (George, UK), Yugoslavia is exactly what the EU is becoming - an artificial, oversized and undemocratic federation.
Neil, UK

Yes, expansion is good for Europe, but we need more political integration before we expand further. This is especially true for currency union.
Michael Zellhorn, UK

I agree entirely with Di from the USA. In the States as well as a central federal tax each state has its own levels of income tax, sales tax and the like. If you don't like your state you go to another one. The people are different and the culture may be slightly different but the language is the same. If you can't find work in California but you can in New York, you pack up and move. If you can't find work in Ireland and move to Hungary for a job the cultural differences are huge, and the language is totally different. The model of the US simply won't work here.
Karl Peters, UK

I have spent some time in the countries of central and Eastern Europe and I've found it hard to accept the sense of hopelessness that dominates the spirit of the young there. These people share the same values as we do. They didn't ask to be imprisoned under a communist system following the war. They didn't ask to have their rivers and cities polluted. The didn't ask to have their infrastructures neglected, they didn't ask for poverty or corruption or poor health - but that's what they got and now we all have a moral obligation to pitch in and give them a hand. We must make the process transparent and we must make them accountable for our investment. The people of Eastern Europe have suffered long enough.
Wayne, EU

The politicians seek expansion as it increases their power. To force so many individual countries into an unwieldy super-state is a recipe for revolution and an open door to dictatorship.
Wendy, UK

Mr Blair's declaration that the anarchists' protests will not stand in the way of democracy is duplicitous and hypocritical. The pro-Europeans faction claim that the low turn-out for the Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty effectively invalidates its result. In fact the turn-out for the referendum was higher than that for many of the European Elections.

The European political elite should listen to their people's voice and declare the Nice Treaty non-ratified and hence null and void. To bury their head in the sand by ignoring the non-ratification of the treaty and effectively calling for a repeat of the Irish referendum until a "yes" vote is obtained is not only undemocratic and imperialistic in the extreme. Moreover it is a recipe for a disaster. European Federalists, ignore your people's voice at your peril
Edwin Thornber, Britain

Congratulations to the Irish who stopped this appalling treaty. The EU is a threat to national sovereignty of any nation and the states hoping to join are sleepwalking to their own destruction. The fact that we are even members of the EU is a betrayal of all who died in two world wars to keep the UK independent.
Al, UK

Eastern Europe will become a money pit for subsidies

Gary, England
George (UK) seems to miss the point. There may be 200 million in the East wanting to be in, but the 3.5m in Ireland who voted against expansion are already members and voted not to expand. Their voices must be heard by the Euro politicians. Why should we subsidise the Eastern block when we need all our taxes to pay for our health service schools etc. or are these people more important then our children's education or pensioners. Eastern Europe will become a money pit for subsidies and our taxes as well as put many of us out of work as companies go to the cheap labour of the East.
Gary, England

We are already net contributors to the EU. With more under-developed countries being admitted this situation will worsen. With the British transport, health and education services hanging on a knife-edge in the UK anything that draws funds away from these essential services is unjustifiable.
Pete, England

As a person who voted No to Nice, I did so for one reason only. Nice was primarily about the voting arrangements after enlargement. It was this and it is this alone which the Irish people will reject until it is corrected. We want an EU of thriving, democratic, equals. Not this compromise called Nice which only favours the larger countries.
Austin Rock,Ireland

I have always thought that the only way to topple Americanisation is to counter-act it with Europeisation. Honestly speaking, I resent my culture being overwhelmed by burger and pizza chains. Just as France has taken a stand against this by promoting its own culture, so too should the Brits, or better still, so too should Europe. Together we can be a strong cultural force. So I say yes to expansion. Eastern Europe has a lot to offer us culturally. As a language graduate, I would love to see a Cyrillic language studied in schools as much as French or German.

Are we in Britain really so inward thinking that we would deprive ourselves of the opportunity to strengthen our position in the world? Only by boldly entering Europe ourselves and promoting our own culture there can we be strong and proud in a European super state.
Matthew Baines, London, UK

No. Economically net contributors to the EU (like the UK) will have to massively increase their contributions to pay for these weaker economies and we will lose our right of veto. Will there be a fair referendum on this, that will actually be listened to (rather than steamrollered and ignored like in Ireland)? I can just imagine the wording now: "Do you want to see a larger European Union or are you a Nazi, baby-eating, 3-headed alien? Yes/No". Hmmm, let me think.
John, UK

Does anyone really think they can make the European Union any worse? The EU's biggest area of responsibility - agriculture - is a disgrace and the principles of a true democracy have never been respected: If you vote YES the decision is "irrevocable" if you vote NO (as did Denmark and Ireland) you vote again!
David Buckley, Belgium

I welcome a larger Europe with open arms. A larger Europe means a more peaceful Europe. What more could any peace-loving human being want. We in the UK need to wake up and realise we are not part of America, we are part of a wonderfully diverse Europe.
Darren Palmer, UK

I rather think that a European superpower will not accurately reflect the wishes of the people and each country's needs. Here in the US each state makes laws and has taxation power at the state level and we can therefore choose where we live if say, we don't like the death penalty, high taxes, lack of quality education or quality of life issues. I would not like to see the cultural and social differences which make each European country unique, thrown aside in order to accommodate the lowest common denominator. A unified Europe is one matter, a Europe which does not allow demonstrations and public outcry against policy does a disservice to the people.
Di Stewart, USA

While I was cycling through Romania last summer I gained a special insight into life outside the European Union. Corruption is rife in every area of life - we even had to bribe guards to allow us to carry our bicycles on a train. Basic things we take for granted are subject to the whims of self-appointed petty criminals. There is a noticeable lack of civic responsibility or solidarity, the result of the chaos of poverty.

I think we should be doing everything possible to extend the freedoms and prosperity we take for granted inside the EU. Apart from being the decent thing to do, it is also important for our own quality of life as it encourages the stability of countries to the east and ensures continued peace on our continent. I think it is highly selfish of the Irish electorate to try in any way to jeopardise the progress of Romania and other countries towards achieving a standard of living and quality of life we think of as our birthright. It is particularly shocking given the way in which Ireland has benefited from EU membership.
Bharain Mac an Bhreithiun, Ireland

I believe that my country has done the EU a favour

Fiachra, Ireland
Whether or not you agree with the Treaty of Nice, I believe that my country has done the EU a favour, in that its vote has stimulated debate on the very complex workings of the Union - debate which was very much lacking until now. It is increasingly looking like the EU is going to morph into a vast, unwieldy bureaucracy that is led by the powerful nations - the original signatories of the Treaty of Rome, chiefly Germany, France, UK, Spain and Italy. The smaller (like Ireland) and the weaker (like the current applicants) are going to become disillusioned as their already minimal influence dwindles to nothing. Wake up Europe - Stop! Take stock and listen to debate before you decide to proceed...
Fiachra, Ireland

Why should the EU be bigger? Soon we will be back to "The World". Let's keep it Europe and agree with the Irish people.
Vannetiere, France

We need a skilled counterweight to American unilateralism

Paul Connor, Canada
In the long run, the Union could include everyone from Reykjavik to Vladivostok. Why not? Where's the threat? By the way, if it was more about harmonising laws (equality of opportunity) than wealth (equality of result), any free-market democracy could join right away. It's these useless and destructive subsidies that open the question of new, poorer applicants draining the rest of the Union. Settle this, Europe! God knows we need a skilled counterweight to American unilateralism, however well intentioned they are.
Paul Connor, Canada

Enlargement should definitely proceed. Without this "carrot" the Eastern European states would be much less far along the road to stability, democracy and development which is good for us too. An enlarged EU also gives us a larger market for our goods and, for the eurosceptics, it will also slow down closer integration while the EU focuses on enlargement instead. The Irish vote was not a fear of enlargement and anyway, should 3.5m people in Ireland block something that 200m in the East want?
George , UK

I am encouraged by stronger ties among the current and possible future EU nations. The European voice seems to speak with moderation (on the whole). The stronger the EU, the more I believe we will have continued relative peace. Further, since the EU already surpasses the US in total population as well as GDP, maybe it will become the default fall-guy for the world's complaints. We in the US are a little weary of this default status.
William C. Soule', Texas, USA

A lot of work remains to be done both inside the EU and in the applying countries

Michael Engman, Sweden
There is a clear moral obligation of the EU, and a self-evident right for the non-member European countries, that all countries that wish to join and are ready to fulfil the requirements in the legal, economic and democratic framework are welcome. A lot of work remains to be done both inside the EU and in the applying countries. The "in-the-club" citizens should focus more of their attention on how we can make this place a peaceful, stable and prosperous area for all Europeans.
Michael Engman, Sweden

As long as everyone wants to be included and actively involved, there will always be room for a larger Europe. If there must be a central government, that is ok, as long as it is not in Germany. They have tried several times to control Europe, let's not be blind.
Costas, Hellenic Republic

The EU will expand to become the World Government. It will merge with the up and coming North American Union and the Asian Union. Then all countries will have to fall into the ranks or be left behind economically. This is not an "if" but a "when".
Barry Jocelyn, Canada

Europe must be for the people - but not run by them!

Alex Pinkerton,Scotland
Only when the countries of the east become full members of the European family, can the goal of a truly united and integrated Europe become a reality. This will not only guarantee peace and stability on a continental scale, it will also help to balance the undue power wielded by the United States. That is why the referendum in Ireland should not be viewed as "done and dusted". As a dedicated European I agree with the Brussels line that, Europe must be for the people - but not run by them!
Alex Pinkerton, Scotland

Firstly, I would like to say that the Irish people are not against enlargement they are against the new system of voting in the EU where they would lose their commissioner and the veto. Concerns about the rapid reaction force are there too. The candidate countries think that they will have the same opportunities that we had when they join the EU, they will not. When we joined we had more power within the EEC as it was then known and we had the veto which we could use if something in a proposed treaty didn't agree with us. By the time these countries join they will be under this new system where the bigger countries will have more votes than the smaller ones so they will not have a veto.
Francis Dunne, Ireland

Why aren't the people of the current EU member states given more information about enlargement? How will the EU be able to support the extra countries as the farming policy is already a shambles? How can it hope to cope with underdeveloped Eastern Europe countries. It would cost a fortune to apply the social policy alone - who would foot the bill?
Steve Bentley, UK

I think it is time for the rest of the world to wake up to the fact that Eastern European countries have always been part of European culture - perhaps much more so than Anglo-Saxon countries (save for 40 odd years of unpleasant distraction) and, as such, have a lot more to offer than just being the "poor relatives". Education, the health service, not to mention young people's attitudes and behaviour, compare very favourably to the UK, for example. Excluding these countries from the EU is also very shortsighted.
Eva W, UK (from Hungary)

We have never had the chance to vote on whether to become part of a super-state

Stephen Phillips, England
Although I didn't vote for the UKIP in the recent elections, I can understand their concerns. We have never had the chance to vote on whether to become part of a super-state. The Common Market we voted to remain in in 1975 has changed beyond recognition. We should insist that our Government gives us the chance to decide how much further - if at all - we should submerge ourselves in a euro-superstate.
Stephen Phillips, England

This may appear as a unification of governments, but remember that at the root of this are the people of Europe who aspire to an end of divisions and bloody history. This is a unification of people for solidarity and the preservation of our culture. I say bring in the Turks, the Balkans and our East European cousins, then we can truly call ourselves the European Union. This may need some sacrifice at first, but the rewards in the long term will far exceed anybody's expectations today!
Vrata, France/ UK

Whenever the "little people" get to vote on Europe they vote against it. The Danes rejected the euro despite overwhelming media support. The Irish rejected the Nice treaty. Support in the UK is less than 50%, support in Germany is dropping rapidly yet the powers that be insist on steamrollering through their plans. I always thought democracy was about representing the people, not ignoring the vote and trying again claiming people were too stupid to understand the question. Firstly if people are too stupid to understand a simple question they shouldn't be voting. Secondly, what is the hidden agenda here? Nobody except the politicians seems to want to enlarge.
John B, UK

A no vote means that EU politicians should at least sit up and take note. Except they have so little power to call the Council of Ministers to account, who seem hell bent on the project no matter what, and so the EU politicians will get overruled. I am not anti-European as closer integration would appear to produce real benefits for my family and myself. I just want to keep certain people who claim to speak on my behalf on a shorter leash.
Steve Dixey, UK

It is of great importance that we get as many European nations under the union umbrella as possible. Currently Europe is the home of moderate and advanced thinking. We should do everything in our power to get this culture of reason, peace and global understanding expanded as far as it is naturally possible.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland

Why does the EU have to be bigger and better than the US?

C. Williams, England
Why does the EU have to be bigger and better than the US? The US has given the world so much in the last century - mostly at the expense of France and Germany - that we should be joining with them, not going against them.
C. Williams, England

The idea of getting larger and larger is something that frightens me. Instead of solving problems and creating welfare and stability, we are going to make problems. I think we must finish enlargement with Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Norway and Switzerland (if they want) and from then on put our energy into each other to solve internal disagreements and set common goals for the future. All members of the EU, despite their differences, have a common cultural background. Let's not throw away such unwritten, unspoken understandings!
Reinier Bosman, The Netherlands

While I do indeed believe in the EU, I am concerned about the notion that expansion will lead to the loss of national identity. This may sound odd coming from a German, but I fear that we will lose our currencies (already lost), national identities, and possibly languages all for a united Europe. I am proud to be European, but I am also proud to be a German.
Mathias, Germany

The European elite has waged a propaganda war against its own inhabitants about the benefits of expansion. The fact of the matter is that some brains haven't been washed. All of those who find themselves to be immune to the EU plague have no desire to lose the sovereignty of their homelands to the USSR sequel.
Ashlon, Texas, USA

The EU needs to get its house in order before expanding further

Euan Gray, UK
Firstly, the Nice Treaty is only peripherally about enlargement. Existing treaties permit the EU to admit a further five countries at any time. To state that the Irish "No" vote prejudices enlargement is untrue. Secondly, the EU needs to get its house in order before expanding further. The CAP, as currently formulated, would bankrupt the EU if the applicant countries were added - things like this need to get resolved first.
Euan Gray, UK

Sure that it is better. With a bigger EU we will have more prosperity and opportunities as well as a more powerful voice. We can also maintain the most important and difficult thing to obtain - PEACE. This is the road for a united Europe where every minority is recognised and were everyone has human rights. The small island of Malta is eager to join our 'bigger brother' and we hope to join the more prosperous present EU countries and also the developing eastern ones - one whole united Europe.
Mark, Malta

I note that the rest of the EU people do not get a choice

Robert, UK
The Nice treaty was not just about expansion; it also included areas that Irish people were not happy about. The possible loss of their neutrality due to being forced to co-operate in the rapid reaction force. If these treaties were concerned with a single area rather than trying to cover a multitude of areas, then perhaps they would be more likely to be agreed if and when the masses get a chance to vote and choose. I note that the rest of the EU people do not get a choice. The politicians get the choice. If these treaties didn't try and sneak things through in the small print there might be more agreement.
Robert, UK

I travel widely across the EC, and have been noticing that political opinion is leaning further and further to the right with regards to immigrants. Whilst I support the expansion, I don't know if political stability could cope with accepting these new countries into the EC. I haven't forgotten what happened in the 30's and 40's.
Alex Banks, UK, Living in Holland

Bigger is definitely better for the EU (how else can we offer a counterbalance to the USA?) but not yet. We need to reform the current institutions to make them more streamlined and accountable before they become too large through expansion, making the necessary changes more difficult.
Mark, UK

Of course we should expand the EU. It'll make Europe more stable by enforcing common laws to protect minorities and prevent another Yugoslavia. It'll also give existing EU members a stronger European voice in the world and help bring Russia closer too. Our investors gain access to cheap skilled labour and they in turn become consumers for our goods. It's a win win situation.
George, UK

The Irish vote is a message for the EU to slow down the pace for a bigger union

Namara, Canada
The Irish vote is a message for the EU to slow down the pace for a bigger union. Normally, pacts signed in a hurry have flaws that may impede the progress of the union as originally envisioned. The "fighting Irish", have their interests at heart that have to be listened to. Their economy is doing well at the moment. So for now, the rush to unionise the whole Europe is on the backburner.
Namara, Canada

I think that all depends on what the aims of expansion are. If it is to create a super-state which puts wealth and commerce at the top of the agenda in order to create even fatter cats then I would resist expansion. However, if it is for the good of more people, so that we richer nations can help bring about a more peaceful existence and higher standard of living to poorer nations, then I'm all for it. I can't help thinking that NO votes are really saying, 'we don't want dragging down by these Eastern European poor relatives', which is very sad indeed.
Mark Dickinson, Nottingham, England

Expansion should definitely not go ahead now. Before any enlargement the EU institutions have to be reformed to be more flexible and democratic because otherwise the EU will suffocate in bureaucracy. I'm amazed that many British are against more democratic powers for the EU but in favour of expansion. If you think the EU is inefficient now, how do you expect it to work when 25 countries have to vote unanimously? I think it's time for all of us to come out of the national caves and develop a stronger 'European spirit'. If that happens, fine, if not, forget expansion. It will destroy the Union.
Carl Meyer, UK (from Germany)

This is a unique opportunity for Europe to become a united country, let's do it

Jean Pournaras, Greece
From the time of the Romans the struggle for a greater Europe has been going on and on by force. Now most of the Europeans want to unite of their own accord and we have people rejecting it? This is a unique opportunity for Europe to become a united country, let's do it.
Jean Pournaras, Greece

It will be a sad if this union turns into a super government. What then if some country wants out? We in the U.S. know what a huge price there was to pay when that was tried here. Don't do it.
William Bellew, U.S.A.

Let's see if I've got this right. The EU first decides that all member states "must" agree to the Nice Treaty before it can be implemented. Then it gives Ireland the right to vote on, and so effectively veto, the issue. Yet when the Irish people decide to reject the Nice Treaty the EU goes into headless chicken mode. Isn't this all just a teensy bit incompetent?
Andrew Duff, UK

Yes, it is definitely time for a rethink, and to listen to the opinion of the people for a change, and not just the member governments. Otherwise, the EU runs the risk of getting too big and not being accountable to anyone and ignoring the smaller members. This is already beginning to happen. Why was Ireland the only country to ask their population what they thought? Why is the EU trying to find ways to enlarge anyway despite that decision?
Martin, UK (ex Ireland)

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