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Rethinking the Eastward Extension of the EU Civil Order and the Nature of Europe's New East–West Divide

Robert Bideleux

Perspectives on European Politics and Society, Volume: 10, Issue: 1, Pages: 118 - 136

Swansea University Author: Robert Bideleux

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Abstract

This article begins by arguing that the major benefits of the ongoing eastward enlargement of the European Union (EU) have accrued, not from direct redistributive transfers of income or wealth, but rather through the ‘game-changing’ impact of the recurrently expanding EU on the conduct of political,...

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Published in: Perspectives on European Politics and Society
ISSN: 1570-5854 1568-0258
Published: Abingdon Taylor & Francis 2009
Online Access: Check full text

URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa11324
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Abstract: This article begins by arguing that the major benefits of the ongoing eastward enlargement of the European Union (EU) have accrued, not from direct redistributive transfers of income or wealth, but rather through the ‘game-changing’ impact of the recurrently expanding EU on the conduct of political, economic and social life in new and prospective member countries, primarily as a result of their joining a supranational civil order and ‘civil association’ in which decision-making, policy-making, governance and even relations between states rest increasingly upon the rule of law and largely consensual negotiations between governing elites. The article then goes on to argue that the papable unreadiness and unsuitability of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for membership of the EU need not be explained by falling back on highly questionable allegations that they have been sundered from their Western and Central European neighbours by intractable cultural/civilisational differences, and that this somehow makes them in certain ‘essentialist’ ways ‘less European’ or ‘less civilized’ than Western and Central Europe (the home of the Holocaust, lest we forget). Instead, it is argued that the evident unreadiness and unsuitability of the CIS countries for EU membership is primarily a consequence of situational factors, above all the still largely unchecked, unmitigated and profoundly entrenched (albeit not wholly unchallengeable) ‘verticality’ of power-structures and power-relations in the CIS polities, economies and societies. In Western and Central Europe, conversely, the emergence and recurrent deepening and expansion of the EU has helped to foster and entrench increasingly powerful horizontal power-structures, power-relations and ‘level-playing fields’ (most conspicuously the Single Market and the extensive and elaborate system of EU law), which powerfully counteract or counterbalance Western and Central Europe’s still strong ‘vertical’ power-structures and the ‘vertical’ power-relations which they sustain. To be sure, powerful ‘vertical’ hierarchical power-structures and power-relations exist in the EU as well as in the CIS, but in the CIS they are not (yet) strongly counterbalanced and counteracted by the increasingly powerful and entrenched horizontal power-structures and ‘level-playing fields’ promoted by the EU countries. Consequently, the fact that Europe’s Cold War East-West divide has not (yet) been completely abolished or transcended, but has merely been replaced by a new East-West divide lying a bit further East than before, does not have to be treated as unassailable evidence or ‘proof’ of the existence of seemingly intractable ‘essential’ differences between these conspicuously contrasting zones of Europe, nor as justifications for implicitly fatalistic latter-day versions of Western and Central European ‘Orientalism’ vis-à-vis the CIS countries. After all, most of East Central Europe and the Balkans appears to have been successfully (albeit not completely irreversibly) ‘brought in from the cold’. Thus there are solid grounds for believing that Europe’s new East-West divide can be continually challenged and eventually surmounted by ceaseless concerted efforts to keep on changing or ‘reforming’ the powerful structures of incentives, opportunities and penalties which govern political, social and economic conduct and inter-state relations in post-Cold War Europe, strongly helped by the vast disparity in income and wealth between the EU countries and the CIS.
Keywords: European Union, Eastward enlargement, supranational civil order, civil association, East-West divide, essentialism, Orientalism
College: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
Issue: 1
Start Page: 118
End Page: 136