aberlinThe EESC held a special commorative plenary session debate this afternoon to mark the twentieth anniversary year of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the fifth anniversary (already!) of the 2004 wave of enlargements. The guest speakers included: Catherine Lalumière, a former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, a former MEP and currently a vice-president of the European Movement; Olli Rehn, the Commissioner for enlargement; and Jaroslaw Pietras, a former Polish Secretary of State for European Affairs who worked closely on Polish accession to the EU. All of the speeches and the debate more generally were rich and thoughtful. If I had to take out three observations, though, I would turn to Lalumière’s analysis. In a sense, she argued, Europe’s division was for a very long time the EU’s raison d’être. Once that division no longer existed, a new raison d’être had to be generated and the EU hadn’t yet entirely managed to do that. Her second argument was that the death of communism, both as a political system and as an ideology, had led to a triumphalist illusion that the western model (however one defined it) had somehow ‘won’, and that there was no alternative. Yet the current economic and financial crisis demonstrated graphically that the western model required considerable adjusting. Her third observation was that we ‘in the West’ didn’t really measure the true scale of the changes that were occurring, both to ‘us’ and to ‘them’, and so we hadn’t yet fully measured the consequences.  For my part, I still remember solemnly lecturing a German friend, whose family had come from Chemnitz (renamed Karl Marx Stadt during the communist years), that he would just have to get used to the fact that German unification was unlikely to take place during his lifetime. That was in – er – about 1987… By the way, the EESC has produced a really neat little (three minutes) DVD about what enlargement means to its new members. You can watch it here. Please go and have a look.