November 24, 2006

Europe: Poverty and the Enlargement Question

Vaguely connected with my previous post and some other little facts and figures I found lately, I have come to wonder if it’s such a good idea that the EU again seeks to swallow up more countries in 2007.

Although fairly unscientific and perhaps conservative in the eyes of some, I am not sure whether it is a good idea that Romania and Bulgaria are claimed to have met all EU standards for joining to club.

Seeing Borat, whose “Kazakhstan” parts are all filmed in Romania, gives an impression of what the countryside in that country looks like, and what serious demographic differences exist between it and, well, a good part of the rest of Europe.

Poverty also happened to be one of the great election items in elections campaigns of Holland’s leftist parties running up to last Wednesday. Figures of poverty recently released draw a picture of 10% of people living in, what the Central Bureau of Statistics called “poverty”. But this is not everything. An article in a Spanish newspaper of this week furthermore claims that new research outcomes have shown that Spain continues to have a poverty rate of 18%, a “stable percentage since years”.

Employment can be said to be an important dynamic motor of poverty-reduction, however, current Europe-wide unemployment rates aren’t something to celebrate either. An average of 10% of the active population does not have work and hence is not able to contribute to wealth redistribution.

Undoubtedly this figure can be explained in part by the admission of the nine new EU members that joined the union some years ago. Evening welfare levels is a process that may take years, if not decades to make a change at large. The subtle welfare differences between the Netherlands and Spain (which joined the union in 1988), may be evidence of that. Although I admit near-total ignorance on matters of political economy and naturally wish the best for everybody, I have come to wonder: is it really a good idea to admit yet another two countries to the Union? Does the EU as a whole benefit from it? Will it not lower standards of welfare and social policy somewhat?

I pose this post rather as a question than as an answer, so please do not get upset with me if you’re Romanian or Bulgarian!

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