Europe Counts the Cost of Expansion

Dec 29 2003

By Sanja Romic

BRUSSELS, Dec 29 (IPS) – Europeans are growing increasingly sceptical about
prospects of a better life in the face of the expansion due next year.

Development programmes meant to increase employment within the European
Union (EU) are seen to be under particular threat.

Ten more European countries are due to join the EU. These are Cyprus, the
Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia
and Slovenia.

Up to five million more workers are expected to seek a better life in the
15 present member states over the next many years.

The 10.41 percent estimated average unemployment rate for the 10 new
countries is expected on top of the 8.8 percent average unemployment inside
the EU-15 area. Among the entrants, the unemployment rate is highest in
Poland at 20.2 percent, and lowest in Cyprus at 5.15 percent.

The European Commission and International Organisation for Migration
estimate that three to five million people from the new 10 countries will
move into the EU-15 area.

Topping the expected list for sending migrants are Poland, Slovakia,
Lithuania and Latvia. A cheap labour force from these countries will be on
the move from 2004 onwards, according to the estimates.

Governments and institutions in Brussels seem convinced that better
economic development and social services are attainable, but citizens of
western Europe are rather pessimistic.

The pessimism arises from fears over expansion, and also from steps taken
already. A recent Euro-barometer opinion poll indicates that 89 percent
think the Euro has brought inflation.

The new presidency of the European Council promises to improve the
quality of life. Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and President of the
European Council Bryan Cowen says his government will push for “economic
growth, employment, prosperity and greater security.” Ireland will have the
six-month rotating presidency of the EU from January.

Cowen said the priorities will be growth and structural reform, investing
in human capital, maximising innovation to achieve the research and
development investment goal of 3 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) by
2010, and fostering competitiveness,
with a focus on the services sector.

Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen has published a comprehensive
strategy to create five million jobs, to boost economic growth and protect
the environment.

The document proposes more than 30 new policies covering among other
things taxation and public administration. It stresses the need to step up
investment in research and higher education, and to halve poverty.

“EU leaders must give fresh impetus to the ambitions agreed on at Lisbon”
because it is “the European Union’s most comprehensive way of tackling
Europe’s economic, demographic, employment and environmental challenges in
order to achieve sustainable development,” Rasmussen said.

The Lisbon Strategy is a commitment to bring about economic, social and
environmental renewal in the EU. In March 2000, the European Council in
Lisbon set out a ten-year plan to make the EU the world’s most dynamic and
competitive economy.

The alternative “magic formula” for boosting growth and job creation in
the first quarter of 2004 is the European Action for Growth, a programme
adopted at the EU Brussels Summit this month. The programme covers 29
projects worth 77.2 billion dollars over the next three years.

The budget covers investments in the areas of transport (such as
high-speed railways and Alpine rail tunnels) telecommunications and energy
networks(cross-border gas and electricity inter-connectors), and also
research, innovation and development.

The Irish presidency of the European Union recognises that sustaining
economic progress will entail comprehensive reform.

Job creation and greater utilisation of human resources, with removal of
barriers to employment is imperative, says Economic and Financial Affairs
Commissioner Pedro Solbes. (END/IPS
“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-sutrh relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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