2002 December 12 Thursday
Eastern European Views Of EU Membership

Czech journalist examines the increasingly ambiguous feelings that many Eastern Europeans have toward European Union membership.

The leader perhaps most haunted by this possibility may well be Arnold Ruutel, the president of Estonia. His country is, along with Latvia, the only one where opposition to the EU already outstrips support - in Estonia by 42% to 32%. We might expect Estonia, having suffered so much from the Soviet Union over many decades, to be among the keenest countries to embrace Europe. Yet the Soviet legacy is more complex: the large Russian community brought in by Stalin to break up Estonia's national identity still makes up one-third of the population. And many more Estonians are unsure if Europe does offer the best route to break the legacy of outside control: "We are a very sceptical nation by nature and no doubt became even more so during the Soviet era, when bitter irony often helped people to survive the absurd conditions we had to live in," says Kertu Ruus, the editor of Foorum, Estonia's biggest political monthly magazine: "There are critics among the businesses who fear we will lose the privilege of our liberal economy should the EU force its own rules upon us. But there are also people whose arguments are more emotional - the outcry "Do we want another Moscow?" and the simple fact that EU passport is of the same red color as the old Soviet passport can also drive some people up the wall," she added.

This Christian Science Monitor article also reviews the deal that the Eastern European states are being offered and their reaction to it.

In terms of roads and infrastructure investment, current beneficiaries such as Greece and Portugal will receive twice as much EU funding per capita as the new member states. Under the current EU enlargement proposal, farmers in new countries will get just a quarter of the subsidies doled out in the old states. Moreover, the accession countries will be denied the EU's most basic right, the freedom of movement across internal borders, for up to seven years.

The European Commission argues that poorer states don't have the organizational ability to correctly fill out the complicated paperwork and utilize massive EU funding. Analysts within the EU also point out that, if new members demand the same rights as existing states, the whole enlargement project could be derailed. The last thing EU taxpayers want is some poor eastern cousin asking for extra helpings.

Its unfortunate that the already relatively poor Eastern European states (see the chart at the bottom of the Christian Science Monitor article) are being forced to enact so much legislation and regulation. Their economies are ill-equipped to handle the extra expense that all this regulation will cause.

The relative poverty of the Eastern European states and Turkey is also illustrated by the chart. Turkey has a surprisingly low level of car ownership. In spite of not having spent almost 5 decades in the Soviet Bloc Turkey is not that much better off than Romania or Bulgaria.

On a related note, Martin Walker reviews Ronald D. Asmus's book Opening NATO's Door about the politics behind the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe.

Asmus is equally good on the tough confrontations with the established NATO allies, and France's unhelpful role in pushing the cause of Romania (then palpably unready for NATO membership), largely because Paris through that the Romanians were Latins who would be susceptible to French influence.

The French suspected that most Eastern European countries would be instinctively pro-American voices in NATO, with little time for grandiose French hopes of a separate Europe-based security system, led from Paris. The fear was that if the French got their way, that could have been NATO's first and last enlargement -- leaving out the thoroughly deserving causes of the Baltic States.

Update: Writing in the Times of London Roger Boyes sees EU rules holding back Eastern Europe's economic development.

For sure, we should celebrate the growing together of East and West. But this long-winded negotiation, staggering this week into its final days, was conducted like a hostile takeover bid. Next year Central Europeans will hold referendums to approve the Copenhagen offer; not surprisingly it looks likely to be a close-run vote in several countries. The EU has behaved disgracefully: the historic fusion of the continent has become a petty exercise, a veritable flea circus.

Competition is being quietly, systematically squashed. Eastern regions with special investment incentives will have to be phased out — the Czech Republic cannot, after all, be allowed to lure investment away from eastern Germany. Just to make certain that Polish milk can never compete with imported German milk, the European Commission has declared that only 38 dairies meet EU standards. “We like our milk this way,” a Polish official recently told a visitor from Planet Brussels. For the commission, this is a very weak argument indeed.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 December 12 03:26 PM  Europe and America


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