Sweden takes over
With the beginning of the new year, Sweden assumed the Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers for the first time since its accession in 1995. In many ways, it is considered fortunate to take over the much criticized French Presidency, it was pointed out in the Swedish press. Marking a break with the French emphasis on internal decision-making, Sweden will give priority to enlargement, employment and the environment.
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Here it should be pointed out that Sweden is known for its long-standing neutrality which now to a certain degree dictates its agenda on EU security and foreign policy. Despite the stated commitment to developing the Rapid Reaction Force, it is unlikely that the first half of 2001 will see a resolution of the sensitive relation between NATO and the EU, commentators said. Partly as a consequence, Sweden has placed top priority on relations with Russia.
At the same time, the Swedish Presidency it trying to utilize its history of neutrality by committing itself to the promotion of transparency, impartiality and efficiency within the EU. Thus, the credibility of the Union will be fostered in the eyes of its citizens, it is hoped.
On the other hand, the Swedish government has been one of the most skeptical to European integration. As it became obvious, yet again, at the Nice Summit, it is adversely opposed to common social security and taxation. In addition, Sweden is not part of the Economic Monetary Union (EMU); thus, some see little progress made with respect to monetary integration under the Swedish Presidency.
Enlargement top of the agenda
It is therefore obvious that by making enlargement its top priority, the Swedish Presidency is in a way steering away from some of its most problematic relations with the EU.
In this respect, "Sweden's objective is to attempt to pave the way for a political breakthrough in the negotiations" with candidates. This will involve the opening and continuing negotiation of some of the most difficult chapters of theacquis. Thus, some see the singling out of candidates for first entry by the end of June, this year.
Nevertheless, Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said that no accession dates would be given. On one hand, setting dates would undermine the incentives for reform in candidate states, he argued. On the other hand, entry dates could damage the already fragile support for enlargement among members—a number of them are currently concerned with the movement of people and regional subsidies under an enlarged EU.
Free movement of people a major issue
The enlargement anxieties of member states regarding the free movement of people (explicitly voiced by German Chancellor Gerhard Shröder in December) combined with the agenda of the Swedish Presidency make the issue of migration of central importance when tackling enlargement.
As Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen pointed out, the differing positions of member states regarding the free movement of people and services demand detailed discussions of the issue and the consolidation of a common position before the first accessions take place.
As much as the free movement of people is seen as a major catalyst of European integration, it is frowned upon when enlargement is concerned. One fear has been the effects of saturation of the labor markets in border regions, namely Germany and Austria. Here, temporary and market specific limits to the free movement of workers have been proposed.
At the same time, as the results from a number of studies have shown, the impact and scale of migration in an enlarged union remain highly contradictory. According to the most widespread model of migration, the discrepancies in per capita income in new and old member states will instantly create a massive wave of East-West migration.
However, German research has shown that as long as immigrants are not pulled by social security benefits, the inflow of labor could in fact increase the GDP of the receiving country. In other words, as long as foreign workers stay employed, pay taxes and do not utilize the social welfare system, immigration is good.
Finally, it is often forgotten that what is currently the main problem of external migration in Fortress Europe is the proportion of illegal immigrants and their impact on wage levels, unemployment and the economy in general.
Thus, giving the green light to the free movement of people in an enlarged union could in fact be a means of controlling and supervising East-West migration patterns. It is also useful to remember that the migration models and theories used in secondary research are, by large, hardly representative of the new factors, incentives and realities of migration.
NATO animated by "Balkans Syndrome"
Unease within NATO was further intensified this week as a number of member-states urged the Alliance to dispose of depleted uranium (DU) ammunitions, still scattered throughout Kosovo, 18 months after the end of the conflict. Calls for such actions came after an allegation for a possible link between cancer deaths of soldiers, who had served in Kosovo and Bosnia, and radioactive military fragments.
Concerns about the use of DU shells grew when a study by the UN Environment Program classified DU shells as representing "unnecessary risk to health." The findings emerged after official investigations by Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Finland and the Netherlands had already been forged.
The French Defense Ministry joined the initiator of the inquiry, Italy, announcing that four of its soldiers were being treated for leukemia in a military hospital. Turkey declared that none of its troops had been affected but they had been deployed largely in northern Kosovo while US-fired DU shells had been used in attacks on Serb targets predominantly in the southern part of the province.
Despite intensified pressures on the government to test its soldiers from Kosovo and Bosnia for signs of contamination, Britain, in line with the US Defense Department, remains one of the few countries to oppose any possible link between the two.
NATO forces fired nearly 31,000 rounds of DU ammunition in Kosovo and 10,000 rounds were used in Bosnia, the latter revealed by NATO only last month, according to Sergio Mattarella, the Italian defense minister. Although leukemia is related to radiation exposure, scientists are not convinced that DU, a by-product of natural uranium and 40 percent less radioactive, is strong enough to cause radiation problems.
NATO agreed to discuss the matter and give more information about depleted uranium shells. The Alliance had already given 112 sites where DU ammunition had been used. The North Atlantic Council will discuss the issue at its routine meeting next week.
Meanwhile, confidence-building measures of the NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo had been significantly undermined after Kosovan Albanian rebels in southern Serbia seized six Serbian hostages on Sunday in an attempt to join UN-administered Kosovo.
The hostages were released on Monday, following resolute diplomatic pressure by Yugoslav and NATO authorities. As tension at the southern border of Serbia had been rising, NATO sent two peacekeepers into sovereign Serbian territory, a step clearly in violation of the agreement signed when NATO bombing ended.
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