THE EUROPEAN Union seems to be not so much running out of gas these days as running in two different directions, with its members unable to agree whether it is a noble and farsighted project, or a threat to their welfare.
On the one hand, the 13 older members of the Union who enjoy borderless travel within the visa-free Schengen zone are churlishly reluctant to extend the same privileges to the new EU members. "Security concerns" are being advanced as cover for something rather ugly - tensions in Old Europe over migrant workers from New Europe.
There is clearly no reason to believe that the Slovak border with Ukraine, for example, is any more porous that the Spanish or Italian coasts, or any more of a threat to Europe's safety. The truth is that if the former EU members were ready to honour their promise to let the new countries in by late 2007, any technical problems with police databases and introducing new travel documents could easily be resolved. One only has to look back at the massive legislative, institutional and structural changes made in all of these countries leading up to EU entry in 2004 to be reminded that where they have the will, they find a way.
The foot-dragging on Schengen is even more unworthy of the EU in light of its recent decision to admit Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. Given that these two countries only barely meet some standards for admission, letting them in was a courageous and generous act. Pity the same courage and generosity is lacking where borderless travel is concerned.
By the same token, the recommendation of the European Commission that the EU slap a visa requirement on US diplomats is another retrograde step unworthy of the noble Union. While it would indeed be desirable for the US to take the same approach to all 25 members of the European Union, and not require visas of its newest citizens, the fact is that the EU's members are not all equal to each other. The citizens of some member states have lower average incomes and thus perhaps greater wanderlust than others, just as member countries may have varying standards of security, corruption in the state sector and so on.
The US as a sovereign nation has the right to apply a differentiated approach to these countries, as it does to others. The fact that the member nations of the EU chose to join a single union of their own devising has nothing to do with US visa policy towards them.
It's especially curious to hear the EU preaching a unified approach by other powers to its members when its own older nations seem to favour two classes of EU membership. It bespeaks a cynicism and a hollowness of purpose that have infected many of the Union's institutions, and begs for a renewal of the largeness of spirit that got Europe to where it is today - bemusedly multinational.