EU enlargement as seen from Eastern Europe. Expectations, experiences, disappointments and Euro-enthusiasm

EU enlargement as seen from Eastern Europe. Expectations, experiences, disappointments and Euro-enthusiasm
Working Paper

Topic: The perspective of the Eastern European candidate countries that will be joining the European Union in 2004.

Summary: This text studies the imminent enlargement of the EU from the perspective of the Eastern European candidate countries that will be joining in 2004 (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia). This paper does not deal with the institutional or economic challenges that the EU faces. These are dealt with in other publications and are given constant attention in the daily news media. This text focuses on the candidates’ perception of the process of their accession to the Union and, in particular, their economic, political and security-related motives for joining the EU, the disappointments they have met in the process, their fears and expectations related to joining, the EU’s influence on regional co-operation and on the pacification of the region, Germany’s role as intermediary and the difficulties caused by joining the EU, given the weakness of public administrations, corruption and the problem of integrating the Gypsy minority.

Analysis: Since the crisis of 1989, joining the EU has become the primary foreign policy objective of all Eastern European countries –an objective that, since that year, has determined not only their international relations, but also their internal political life and economic transformation-. There are many reasons for this unanimous decision in the region, economic ones above all. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the crisis in the Soviet Union –the market for 60 to 80% of exports from each of these countries– made it unable to pay (or even barter) for the goods arriving to the region. Between 1989 and 1991, Eastern European countries lost more than 60% of its Soviet market and this led to an avalanche of industrial crises with thousands of companies shutting down entirely and significant drops in GNP in the entire region. For example, in 1991 GNP dropped 14% in Czechoslovakia and Rumania, 20% in Bulgaria, 9% in Poland and 8% in Hungary.

This decline forced the region to immediately look for new markets and Western Europe was the only nearby market able to absorb Eastern European products, although there were serious problems with this change in market because of the low quality of many of the region’s manufactures –acceptable by Soviet consumer standards, but not by Western ones-. This was not the case of raw materials, agricultural products or labour-intensive activities that the West was already importing from developing countries, such as textiles. But along with this need to find alternative markets, Eastern Europe also needed considerable economic aid to restructure its industry, most of which was technically obsolete and had received its most recent investments in the first half of the 1970s. It also needed consulting services and foreign networks to entirely reorganise its economic activity and to orient it toward Western markets. And it needed investment in infrastructure, which, like industry, had been abandoned. Telecommunications, in particular, were an obstacle to economic development. The region faced these challenges lacking public and private capital.

The European Union was, therefore, important to the region, first of all as a large market, but also very importantly as a source of economic aid and of direct investment by businesses from its member states. Although it has become a cliché to say that in the early 90s Eastern Europe was hoping for a kind of new Marshall Plan (having not been covered by the original plan due to the Soviet veto), there is in fact no indication that such expectations actually existed. It is much more likely that the legacy of cynicism inherited from the Communist period immediately extended to relations with the West, and that pragmatism and realism dominated the negotiations. In any case, it is true that both the population in general and the Eastern European elites in 1989 did not know much about the workings of Western European institutions and its political life, which they had been disconnected from for over forty years. It is possible that this disconnection stimulated too many hopes.

The turn to the West was progressive in a few cases and sudden in most. The former include Hungary and Poland, which began negotiations with the EC in the late 80s and signed association agreements with the EC in 1991, along with Czechoslovakia. The Union had developed the PHARE (Poland Hungary Assistance for the Restructuring of the Economy) program for them, later extending it to the entire region. Both countries had experienced a milder form of Communism, with state parties distant from Muscovite dogma determined to gain popular legitimacy through economic success. This had led them to experiment with the introduction of market mechanisms in their state-regulated economies in the 1980s, an experiment that was relatively successful in Hungary, but paralysed in Poland by the opposition of the Solidarity trade union.

Along with economic concerns, there are political and security-related motives that have encouraged the countries in the region to look toward the European Union. This “return to Europe” has become a leit motiv of their political and intellectual elites, who practically all believe the EU has the moral and “historical” obligation to take them in. This is the expression not only of a firm belief that they are “as European” as anyone (which is hardly debatable), but also of a complaint and a demand for recompense for what happened after 1945, when the agreements between the Western powers and the Soviet Union left the region in Soviet hands. Today, Eastern Europeans consider this to have been an act of treason and abandonment that left them backward and outside their natural context for four decades –something that must be repaired by the West-. In this sense, the “return to Europe” is a slogan that sums up an entire project of normalisation and assimilation in European political, economic and social life.

As for security, their greatest motivation is a desire to distance themselves from Russian influence. This may seem hardly justifiable given the current weakness of the Russian Federation –though this weakness has its dangers– but it is based on important historical facts, some distant and others very recent, especially in the case of the Baltic countries. The region, as a whole, has always been a field for competition among bordering powers that have carved up its territory for centuries: the Ottoman, Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires, and then Germany. All that remains of the Ottoman Empire is a country that does not pose a threat to any of the countries in the region (only Bulgarian nationalists fear its influence through the Turkish minority); Austria is not a power and Germany has been “neutralised” inside the European Union. Only Russia continues to exist as a potentially threatening neighbouring power. Its last act of violence in a country in the region was the military occupation of Vilnius (Lithuania) in 1991, in an attempt to prevent the latter’s independence, which is very recent in terms of its effect on perceptions and attitudes. The experience of four decades of communism imposed from outside has left an anti-Russian feeling that will last for decades in the direct memory of those who lived through the period and will then be added to the list of grudges held against Russia by the countries in the region. Developments in Russian domestic politics do not help to dissipate this distrust: the evolution of the Russian communist party toward a fusion of nationalism and statism, the December 1993 electoral victory of Vladimir Zhirinovski, who promoted new Russian expansionism toward the south and west and, in general, the fact that nationalism is the only identifiable common feature of Russian political parties, are all factors that contribute to maintaining fear of Russia. In the early 90s, when each country in the region was negotiating new friendship treaties with Russia, which had still not completely withdrawn from its military bases in these countries, Moscow attempted to insert a clause in these treaties that would prevent them from entering NATO. Only the Rumanian government accepted, though its Parliament finally rejected the clause.

The region’s relations with Russia have improved a great deal in recent years. Since the brusque initial commercial and political rupture in the early nineties, relations have been progressively restored on new bases of greater equality. But the evident pragmatism of these relations does not mean that distrust is no longer a basic component of the attitude toward Russia and joining the EU appears to guarantee distance from Russian influence. Theoretically, joining NATO should have the same effect and should offer the region sufficient guarantees (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are already members and the three Baltic countries, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Rumania will join soon). However, the semi-accession of Russia to the Atlantic Alliance has diluted the Alliance’s political identity. By comparison, the European Union appears to be a much more exclusive club in which Russia will not be able to take part for many years. Precisely for this reason, the EU guarantees long-term security in terms of the creation of political alliances and common interests.

The search for security as a motivation to join the EU is especially pronounced in the case of the Baltic countries[1]. Particularly in Estonia and Latvia, with large Russian minorities (29 and 33% respectively), the very recent experience of forcibly belonging to the USSR has caused even more intense Russophobia than in their Western neighbours[2]. The foreign policy doctrine that Russia established in the early 90s regarding the “nearby foreigner” (the republics that broke away from the USSR) and its desire to maintain decisive influence in these territories and to look after the Russians living there are perceived in the Baltic countries as a threat. Russia’s insistent opposition to the Baltics’ joining NATO has been interpreted there as tantamount to rejecting their sovereignty. Finally, the question of the oblast of Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave isolated between Poland and Lithuania, which Russia has remilitarised in recent years in response to Poland joining NATO and to the imminent incorporation of the Baltic countries into the organisation, is also a source of instability for the three Baltic states, especially for Lithuania. The city of Baltiisk in Kaliningrad has become the main Russian military naval base in the Baltic since the break-up of the USSR, with greater strategic importance than St. Petersburg due to its vulnerability, being hemmed in at the end of the Gulf of Finland with its exit to the open sea controlled by Estonia and Finland[3]. Lithuania therefore finds itself between the strongly armed Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus, a close political and military ally of the Russian Federation.

The experience of accession to the EU

Despite their realistic attitude, what the people of Eastern Europe surely never expected was to find themselves the cause of demonstrations by French farmers and metalworkers protesting against imports of Polish steel, Hungarian and Polish meat products, or textiles from the entire region, nor that these protests would lead to acts of vandalism against trucks loaded with meat[4]; nor that as a result of French resistance (joined by the Belgians and the Irish[5] on the issue of agricultural products, and the Spanish, concerned about competition in the steel and coal industries[6]), the EC would raise a new “iron curtain” of tariffs, quotas and taxes to prevent the penetration of “sensitive” products into the EC market, especially agricultural and steel products. This caused considerable frustration in Eastern Europe, which saw itself deprived of its traditional eastern market while having only restricted access to the western market. All this occurred in the midst of an extremely serious economic and social crisis and is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the continuous decline in popular support for joining the EU. In 1991, the massive penetration of Western products into Eastern Europe markets, combined with this restrictive policy on the regions exports, caused the first mass protests of Polish farmers. In 1993, the EC’s trade surplus with the countries of the Visegrad group, plus Bulgaria, already came to 1.3 billion dollars.

The association agreements signed in 1991 with Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary –the three pioneers– included the progressive dismantling of the barriers to free trade until the year 2001, a process much slower than what the associates wanted and needed. This date was maintained in the association agreements signed with later candidates. The protectionist policies of the CAP, of the European Community, of the Coal and Steel Communityauthorities and of the Multifibers Agreement (all basic agreements for regulating European foreign trade and, in the case of the textile agreement, of developed countries in general) have been a substantial impediment to Eastern European exports to the EU. In 1993, at the Copenhagen summit, at the same time as objective criteria were established to open the door for the first time to the eventual accession of these countries to the EC, the Union agreed to reduce its trade barriers more quickly than stipulated in the Association Agreements. The perception that imports from the candidate countries had very little real weight (in 1992 they represented only 1.42% of the EC’s imports and 2.07% of “sensitive” products) calmed some fears of an “invasion” of products from Eastern Europe and contributed to the lowering of trade barriers at the Copenhagen summit.[7]

In 1991, the ERDB (European Reconstruction and Development Bank) was created to finance projects for transforming the market economy in the region, although, given the serious economic deterioration in the republics that had broken away from the USSR, it almost immediately started focusing on these republics and abandoned Central Europe, which was comparatively less needy and also less dangerous. Not only the ERDB, but also the bulk of international financial aid in general shifted to the former Soviet republics. For Eastern Europe, this was exascerbated by the fact that this aid was often linked to the purchase of Western products –for example, U.S. aid to Russia was linked to the purchase of American wheat–, which further reduced trade within the former COMECOM[8].

The European Union’s main instrument for financial aid to Central and Eastern Europe is the PHARE program mentioned above. This was created in 1989 and since 1997 it has focused on the priority areas indicated for each candidate country in the “Accession Partnership” and in the annual monitoring reports that the Commission makes on each candidate. Since the year 2000, the program has focused mainly on improving the capacity of administrative institutions to absorb structural aid, especially at the regional level, helping the countries assimilate community acquis and promoting economic and social cohesion[9]. The SAPARD (Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development) and ISPA (Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession) programs were created in June 1999[10] as instruments for pre-accession. The former is destined to improving the agricultural sector and to rural development (on the whole, to finance the transformation of agriculture in Eastern Europe), while the latter is aimed at environmental and transportation projects. In 2000, the PHARE budget was 1.085 million billion euros and the SAPARD budget was 520 million, while ISPA was allocated 1.040 millionbillion.

The projected cost of the three programs in 2003 is 1.627 million billion euros, almost all of which (1.614 millionbillion) goes to Eastern European countries. According to the Commission’s calculations, if these countries joined in January 2004, several of them would become net contributors to the community budget, particularly the Czech Republic, which would lose 342 million euros that year, but also Hungary (180 million) and Slovenia (174 million) [11]. Slovenia and the Czech Republic, along with Cyprus and Malta, would continue paying more than what they would receive in the following years. To avoid this, at the Brussels summit in October 2002 it was decided that a “compensatory” payment should be made. A total budget of 40 billion euros for aid to the 10 candidate countries in 2004-2006 was approved at the summit. The agreement stipulates that the candidates will not receive all the agricultural aid corresponding to them until 2013, based on the argument that this aid would take away the incentive for Eastern European farmers to make the necessary reforms to modernise their sector. According to the agreement, the future members would receive 25% of what is due to them in the first year, 30% in the second year, and so on until reaching 100% in 2013 –supposing that the CAP continues to exist then under its current terms-. As for regional funds, the budget agreement allocates 23 billion euros for the three years[12] (in January 2002 the Commission had proposed 25.5 billion, but pressure from Germany and other net contributors reduced the amount), based on a calculation of the capacity of the regional and national administrations in the zone to absorb this aid, which requires a financial counterpart from those receiving it. For this reason, and because the two poorest countries, Rumania and Bulgaria, have been excluded from the first stage of enlargement, Spain will not lose money from the regional funds during 2004 to 2006, although it will begin to lose starting in 2007. Therefore, the eight Eastern European candidates –whose per capita income runs from 28% of the community average in Latvia to 69% in Slovenia, and whose regions are almost all below 75% of the community average (with the sole exceptions of Prague and Bratislava) and most are below 50%– in the first three years will split up an amount equal to what Spain alone receives (with three regions below 75%).[13]

The candidates feel they have been treated as second-class Europeans and they have protested as energetically as possible against decisions that condemn them to a long period of adaptation within the EU. However, they have little or nothing to negotiate with and only when they belong to the club will they be able to influence community decisions. The candidates have also had to accept that their future accession will come with safeguard clauses that the EU has never been applied before to new members and that are the fruit of EC members’ lack of confidence in the ability of (at least some) of the candidates to comply with EU regulations on domestic markets, justice and security. Likewise, the candidates have no choice but to accept the German and Austrian imposition of a seven-year moratorium on the free movement of workers between their countries and the EU. Fears of massive immigration from the candidate countries is based on the experience of the 90s, when about 880,000 people emigrated to Western Europe from the East in 1990-97 and 80% of them stayed in Austria and Germany. However, this was the result of opening borders that had been closed for decades (most of the emigrants left their countries between 1990 and 1993) and of the economic crisis that was at its worst in the mid-90s. Since 1995 the economic situation has constantly improved and the Commission’s calculations on the future of immigration from the candidate countries show a slow but continuous decline to around 350,000 people a year at first and then to less than 150,000 people ten years after enlargement. By 2030 they will represent 1.1% of the population of the Fifteen (3.5% of the population of Germany)[14]. It is significant that in opinion polls carried out in the candidate countries, when asked what they think of when they think of the EU, only 15% of people spontaneously answered “travel” or “working abroad”, far below the 38% who gave the most common answer, referring to prosperity and economic development.[15] It is likely that these fears of massive immigration from the Eastern Europe candidates are unfounded, as were those regarding Southern European countries (Spain, Greece and Portugal) before they joined the EC, though wage differences as compared to the EC were less pronounced in that case.

The work to be done

The annual monitoring reports made by the European Commission for each of the candidates show that the eight central European countries invited to join in 2004 already possess the features that define democracies, as well as viable market economies, and are capable of taking on community rights and responsibilities; in short, they meet the requirements for accession to the EU defined in at the Copenhagen summit in 1993. All this indicates that these candidates have undergone enormous economic, political and institutional changes. Nonetheless, the Commission indicates several areas where all the candidates are lagging:

1. – Weak and corrupt administration

One of the most surprising things revealed after the fall of the communist regimes in the region has been the weakness of the states in terms of regulating their societies. The old regimes with their almost entirely state-regulated economies seemed to be strong, well-organised states with great planning and management ability; in fact, the communist states were instruments without autonomy or cohesiveness in the hands of well-organised, extremely hierarchical communist parties that formed real backbone of civil activity. One of the defining features of this weakness of the state was the absence of administrative law and statutes governing public administration; that is, regulations defining the relationships among the different state bodies and between these and their employees and citizens in general. After the dissolution of the communist parties in 1989 and after breaking the dependency on the Party-State, the weakness of the administrative structure became clear; and this occurred in a context of economic crisis that prevented allocating the necessary funds to modernising the structure of the state. Since then, much headway has been made in establishing a regulatory framework without great economic cost. However, much is yet to be done in terms of providing services and creating new agencies to intervene in matters that were not dealt with during the communist period, such as consumer rights or environmental protection. Regarding the latter, for example, the candidates are far behind by Western European standards and it is calculated that it will cost a total of about 100 billion euros for all of them to adapt to community regulations on the environment. Another problem that will affect the EU involves the prevention and control of delinquency. In the past, there was practically no common delinquency in these countries, which maintained policing policies that were not based on the rule of law. In democracies, it is much more difficult and expensive to control delinquency and the growth of criminal activity in all these countries has overwhelmed their policing capabilities. Finally, poorly functioning administrations make relations between the candidates and the EU difficult, as they are less able to take community aid that requires local teams capable of planning, evaluating and developing projects.

Corruption is one of the common issues in the annual reports prepared by the European Commission on each of the candidates. According to the index prepared by Transparency International, the only organisation that measures and reports corruption in the world, all the candidate countries suffer from a level of corruption higher than the EU average[16]. Only Italy and Greece are below 6 (on a scale in which 0 means very corrupt and 10 indicates not at all corrupt), the score that separates EU countries from the candidates. Rumania stands out as having the lowest score on this scale: 2.6, in 77th place on a list of 102 countries studied. The rest place between this score and Slovenia’s 6.0, which is very close to Portugal and France, both of which score 6.3 (Spain receives 7.1, in 20th place). Information from public opinion surveys in the region also reveals a generalised perception that corruption is very widespread. 95% of Lithuanians think that all or almost all public employees in their country are corrupt. Only in Slovenia is this figure below 50%.

1. – To what extent do you think corruption is widespread in your country? Percentage who answers that all or almost all public employees are corrupt.2.- What should a person who needs an official permit do if a public employee tells him that he must be patient and wait? Percentage who answers: bribe him, pull strings, and go ahead without the permit.
Corrupt public employeesDo not respect the rules
Lithuania95%68%
LithuaniaLatvia92%51%
LatviaRumania88%53%
RomaniaSlovakia80%55%
Bulgaria74%29%
Poland69%26%
Czech Republic66%31%
Estonia63%45%
Hungary54%35%
Slovenia42%29%
Average of candidates73%42%

Source: “A bottom up evaluation of enlargement countries”. Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 2002. Interview held in October and November 2001.

Corruption is common in all countries that have dismantled a state-owned economic system and have privatised their economic activity, regardless of the relative strength of the state. The example of China’s economic privatisation and political centralisation show that this is apparently inevitable when massive privatisation processes are undertaken. China receives a score of 3.5 on the Transparency International scale. Furthermore, these processes of massive privatisation always occur with state budgets in crisis conditions (with the sole exception of the GDR, which joined rich Germany), which means underpaid public employees in charge of enormous economic transactions. This “transitional” corruption should diminish as the public sector contracts, the private sector grows and a market economy is created, which has already happened in the candidate countries. However, corrupt habits die hard and tend to move down the pyramid of the state’s hierarchy, becoming widespread there, especially if the state cannot guarantee reasonable salaries. Finally, corruption becomes a tax on economic activity and can strangle it, particularly by discouraging direct foreign investment, as has occurred in Rumania and even more clearly in Russia (which stands at 2.7 on the corruption scale).

For lack of data from the early 90s[17] we do not know to what extent, if at all, corruption has declined with the completion of the privatisation process, something that has already happened in the countries invited to join in the first round. Neither do we know how seriously the candidates take the Commission’s warnings on this issue when, as has been mentioned, both Italy and Greece are equally or more corrupt than several of the candidates, with scores of 5.2 and 4.2 on the Transparency International scale, respectively, and with Portugal and France not far ahead of the group in this respect.

2.- Relations with the Gypsy population

Although the Commission refers generically to problems with national minorities in the candidate countries, in fact, the serious problem still to be solved involves the Gypsy minority (known as Roma or Romany in their language). The other two large minorities in the country that will join in 2004, Russians in the Baltic countries and Hungarians in Slovakia, have already found ways to accommodate themselves and find their place in their respective states, in large part as a result of pressure applied by European institutions. This does not mean, however, that there is no risk of conflict.

It is impossible to be certain how many Gypsies live in the candidate countries. The real number must be between the lowest estimates of 2,800,000 and the highest of 5,000,000.[18] Rumania, with more than 1,500,000 million Gypsies, is their main country of residence, followed by Bulgaria and Hungary (around 600,000 in each case), then Slovakia (with about 450,000). Of all the candidates, Poland has the smallest relative proportion of Gypsies, who do not number more than 50,000 among a total population of more than 38 million. The great majority of these Gypsy populations live in conditions of poverty and social marginalisation much more severe than those of Spanish Gypsies and score much lower than the average in their countries on all scales that measure welfare: their children attend school less, and more quickly abandon the school system; they take the least skilled and worst paid jobs; their unemployment rate is much higher; they live in strikingly poorer housing; and they represent a much higher percentage of the prison population than the general population. Furthermore, their birth rate is much higher than average, which means increasing demographic weight.

Any private conversation on this topic with non-Gypsies in the candidate countries reveals the general conviction (sometimes reflected in surveys[19]) that the Gypsies are the ones most responsible for their situation and, therefore, that this is not the fruit of discrimination but rather of the Gypsies’ own tendency to live apart. Not long ago, in August 2000, the then minister of Social and Family Affairs, Peter Harrach, said as much when he stated that the Hungarian government had done more for the Gypsies than they had done for themselves. The president of the government, Viktor Orban, added that the Gypsies should study and work more[20]. This was the response of the Hungarian government to the petition for political asylum in France by a Gypsy community that alleged abuse in their country.

Since 1989, violence against Gypsies has increased (though Hungary has been one of the countries least affected), most likely because of their increasing impoverishment –they have been especially negatively affected by economic restructuring and by their poor qualifications–, and due to their participation in criminal activities, which, in turn, have increased spectacularly since 1989. This violence, also motivated by the impoverishment of large segments of the non-Gypsy population, has been aimed not only against Gypsies, but also against everyone different or poor in general, including immigrants from the east and the south who have settled in these countries. But the Gypsies are unquestionably the main target of this violence, not only on the part of skinheads and other adolescent Naziphile groups that proliferated in the candidate countries in the mid-90s, but also on a limited number of occasions, by local mobs recalling the pogroms of the past.

The conflict between the majority population and the Gypsy minority in each of these countries is probably the most difficult problem to solve of all those that the European Commission says the candidates must overcome. It is not a “transitional” problem that will work itself out with greater economic development, and the efficiency of social policy tools is very limited. At the Commission’s urging, all the candidates have started specific programs aimed at the Gypsy population in the areas of education, housing and jobs, as well as combating the stereotypes that determine how Gypsies are perceived. The Commission recognises these efforts by governments but says that their marginalisation continues, though violence against Gypsies has declined significantly in recent years. For their part, the Gypsy minorities, unlike other national minorities that are often much smaller, have been incapable of organising themselves efficiently at the political level in any of the countries in the region, which is another factor that complicates their social integration. Finally, the “Gypsy issue” not only affects the candidates internally and their relations with the Commission, it also affects their image in Western Europe. Emigrating Gypsies, primarily from Rumania, have led Western public opinion to identify them with the Rumanian population as a whole. In fact, it is very likely that the high level of opposition expressed in EU countries to Rumania as a candidate for integration, as compared to other candidates (with the greatest opposition after Turkeythough the greatest opposition is to Turkey), is based on Western Europe’s experience with Rumanian Gypsy immigrants[21]. Gypsy immigrants are much more visible in European cities than non-Gypsy immigrants, both because of the way they dress and because of their “profession” as street beggars. They are strongly rejected by local populations that already have problems of cohabitation with their own Gypsy communities.

Public opinion and fears related to integration. The Europeanism of the candidates

Apart from territories, people and markets, what do the Eastern European candidates offer the European Union? What projects, ideas or new perspectives do they bring with them? The fact is that, for the present, the candidates are taking an essentially instrumentalist approach to the European Union, which they see as an instrument that can benefit their national interests. None of the candidates demonstrates Europeanist thinking capable of generating proposals for Europe as a whole. The countries in the region are too anxious about their own position before the EU and since 1989 have undergone a very painful process in terms of social cost and an economic transition much tougher than the one experienced when Southern Europe had to adapt to the EC. Furthermore, their isolation from Western institutions and from Western Europe as a whole for more than 40 years has left a legacy that includes a complete lack of reflection on these institutions, on common European interests and on the identity of this new Europe. It has been said[22] that the candidates probably bring the EU more nationalism and less Europeanism and this is very likely true. But this is to be expected, given their national histories that can be summed up by the image of little fish being eaten again and again by different bigger fishes. Only when this deep-seated national anxiety disappears or diminishes, which will likely occur after several years in the EU, can a more Europeanist attitude be expected of the eastern candidates.

In other ways, however, Eastern Europeans are more “Europeanist” than the countries that are already members: opinion surveys now show much greater optimism regarding the effects that joining the EU will have on their countries than is perceived in countries that are already members. Likewise, the image of the European Union is more positive in the candidate countries than among members of the Union. 52% of citizens in the candidate countries have an overall positive image of the EU, whereas in member states only 42%[23] do. The difference is even greater if we compare the general population in the candidate countries with young people in the EC. 69% of the former affirm that “the European Union is a means for creating a better future for young people”, whereas only 28% of young people in EC countries share this opinion.

The process of accession to the European Union involves a significant transfer of sovereignty immediately after having recovered it in 1989 after more than 40 years of de facto, if not de iure, Soviet rule. If we go further back, we find nations that have enjoyed very short periods of independence: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and the Baltic peoples alike created their own states for the first time after the First World War.[24] Hungary, semi-independent within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, achieved full statehood only when the empire dissolved in 1918; Rumania, independent since 1881, acquired its current borders in 1918 with the accession of Transylvania; Bulgaria, meanwhile, has been independent since 1885. All the nations in the region share a history of mutual distrust, continuous changes of borders, and above all, centuries of subordination to neighbouring rival powers: the Ottoman Empire, the Austrian and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia, Germany, the Tsarist empire and the Soviet Union. This history has left a legacy of strong nationalism based on anxiety over international recognition –nationalism that has not yet been tempered by modernisation, which was paralysed by the communist experiment-. How does this nationalism fit with the process of accession to the EU? Up to now, nationalism and Europeanism have meshed well because, as was mentioned earlier, “the return to Europe” has become the main national goal. It is crystal clear to the people and the elites in the region that conditions in their countries are inferior to those in Western Europe, and that accession to the EU is the only possible way to reach Western levels of development. For all these reasons, national pride, injured for many years, is now demanding an end to exceptionality and is demanding that their countries become “normal” again. This includes a rejection of the “Eastern” label, which they apply to other nations further to the east, which the candidates consider to be less developed, as well as being their historical enemies.

These are the main lines of thinking and the main attitudes in all the countries in the region. In several of them, however, difficulties with adapting to EU demands have resulted in reduced support for accession, while encouraging the rise of identifiably anti-Europeanist political parties with greater or lesser electoral appeal. This is the case of the Grand Rumania Party, which received 22% of votes in the elections of November 2000, the Hungarian Truth and Life Party, which received 4% of votes in the April 2002 elections, and various Polish parties that won seats in the elections of September 2001, such as the Self-Defence Group (10%) and the League of Polish Families (8%). In the case of Poland, the agricultural sector’s difficulties in competing with the penetration of Western agricultural products and adapting to EU regulations are the fundamental cause of anti-Europeism. As is well-known, Polish agriculture is based on small landholding and is not efficient. It occupies 25% of the population (though some of these are part-time farmers) but only produces 6% of GNP. Agriculture has also cushioned the effects of unemployment caused by industrial restructuring[25] and its difficulties are felt widely throughout society.

Along with these demonstrations of generic rejection of EU impositions on national life, there are more specific concerns related to integration, also at the national level: the problem of national minorities that will remain outside the EU and the fear that small national economies will be swallowed up by foreign economic forces. One aspect of the latter point is the fear of massive purchases of land by Germans or Austrians. This has led the countries bordering Germany and Austria to protect their land market, which has prices much lower than those in the West, by obtaining a seven-year EU-approved moratorium on the free purchase of land by community citizens (Denmark also joined the EC with a similar moratorium motivated by a fear of massive land purchases by Germans).

Belonging to the European Union and the Schengen space will oblige the candidates to revise their foreign policy on their eastern or southern neighbours, who either are not candidates or will not be joining before 2007. They will have to tighten controls on borders that in some cases became porous in the nineties. Poland and Hungary have large national minorities in neighbouring countries: 260,000 Poles in Lithuania, 420,000 in Belarus and 220,000 in Ukraine; and 1,800,000 Hungarians in Rumania, 600,000 in Slovakia, 300,000 in Serbia and 200,000 in Ukraine[26]. Both the Polish and Hungarian states have developed foreign policies under their democracies aimed at protecting the cultural-national identity of these minorities and deepening relations with them. These are especially strong in the Hungarian case, probably because they were torn away from the mother country more recently (in 1920 with the Treaty of Trianon, which reduced Hungary to a third of its former territory). Future inclusion in the Schengen space is forcing the candidates to close their eastern and southern borders, which contradicts the open-doors policy started in 1989 in order to facilitate contacts with the minorities and the small-scale border trade, which, in Poland, has been estimated at around 3 billion dollars a year. This trade is carried out mostly by thousands of Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Belorussians who make their living by taking advantage of the differences in prices and in the supply of consumer goods, buying and selling on both sides of the Polish border[27]. The EU’s fear that these borders could become open doors for a massive influx of immigrants and for the entry of criminal networks from further east, presents the candidates with the dilemma of whether to sacrifice their relations with the East in order to improve relations with the West. In the case of Hungary, the controversial Status Law[28] is, among things, an attempt to combine strictly controlled borders with Rumania, Serbia and Ukraine with easy transit to Hungary for the Hungarian minorities in each of these countries.

Along with these fears, public opinion in the candidate countries reveals other fears related to accession to the EU that are often the very same fears reciprocally expressed in countries that are already members. For example, 55% of people interviewed in the candidate countries believe that entry into the EU will increase drug traffic and organised crime in their countries. This means that they believe that in the EU these crimes are more widespread than in their own countries, whereas a nearly identical percentage of community citizens interviewed (56%) believe that enlargement will lead to an increase in these crimes in the EU, that is, they think they are more widespread in the candidate countries. The other two main accession-related fears among citizens of the candidate countries are the high cost of this for their countries (50%) and the difficulties that this will pose for local farmers (46%). This is also a fear shared with EU member countries: 60% of community citizens interviewed believe that enlargement will be detrimental to farmers in the EU, while in Poland 64% are of the opinion that their farmers will be the ones who will suffer[29]. These are examples of the difficulties the EU is having with making the results of its policies –and its very existence– visible to society.

These three fears –increased crime, high costs and harm to farmers– are the ones most commonly expressed in all the countries in the first round of eastward enlargement (Turkey, Cyprus and Malta express other concerns). Strikingly, the Eastern candidates that will join the EU later (Bulgaria and Rumania) are much less concerned about the future. This is precisely because it is still a far-off scenario and they have only just begun their adaptation to community regulations; that is, up to now, their perception is that costs have been minimal.

On the whole, fewer fears are expressed regarding the EU in interviews in the candidate countries than in the EU itself, whether relating to the end of the national currency (42% in the 13 candidate countries vs. 58% in the EU Fifteen), the loss of national identity and culture (32% vs. 47% respectively), the loss of social benefits (23% vs. 51%), reduced use of one’s own language (38% vs. 42%) or a shift in employment to countries with lower wages (36% in the candidate countries –a striking response coming mainly from the richest of them, likely fearful that this shift will be toward the less developed– vs. 60% in the Fifteen). The differences in the last of the above responses expresses the perception of a real danger that has been verified on several occasions, especially in the automobile industry, which has moved or plans to move part of its production from an EU country like Spain to one of the candidate countries in the East. However, the differences in all the other responses simply indicate general overall confidence in the EU on the part of the candidate countries, as opposed to the greater scepticism or rejection observed in member countries.

This greater “Euro-enthusiasm” among the candidates, in comparison with the members, can also be seen when the interviewees are asked about the personal cost-benefits balance that will come (or that they believe will come) with EU membership. 42% of the population of the 13 candidate countries think that EU membership will be advantageous or very advantageous to them personally, as opposed to 29% in member countries. By contrast, the most common response in member countries is that pros and cons come equally with EU membership (41%). Another 16% feel that membership is clearly disadvantageous. In the candidate countries these percentages stand at 23% and 14%, respectively.[30] The countries with the highest expectations are those furthest from accession (Turkey and Rumania), where half of interviewees answered that they expect to personally obtain benefits from joining.

The social groups most optimistic about the effects of the EU are youngest and those with the highest levels of education. This optimism drops as age increases and vital space decreases. It is much lower among women than among men, which is perfectly coherent with the greater or lesser personal benefits obtained from this general process of social and economic transformation. It is the youngest, best-trained and most urban segments of society who are the first to reap the benefits of the entry of foreign capital, privatisation and the creation of new businesses. At the other extreme are the elderly, who depend on generally miserable retirement pensions, and in general, all those who live on state funds: public employees, the unemployed and recipients of subsidies. Women are over-represented in this group[31]. The big cities – beginning with the capitals – have also accelerated economically much faster than the rural areas, especially the easternmost ones most distant from the economic influence of Western Europe. Furthermore, many small cities are still suffering from the crisis caused by the closure of industries that stopped being profitable at the end of the eighties. Unemployment is often very high in these cities.

On the whole, confidence in the EU is high despite the fact that net support for integration has diminished significantly in the Eastern European candidate countries since the early 90s, when it was extremely high (and groundless). Support for integration has risen instead of falling only in the two countries furthest from joining the EU, Bulgaria and Rumania. In any case, even where support for integration is below 50% (Estonia and Latvia), supporters far outnumber opponents to integration, with a large number of undecided, which suggests positive results if referendums are on accession are held.

                             Changes in support for each country joining the European Union
     1991 Opposed1991 In favour2001 Opposed2001 In favour
Lithuania1%88%19%51%
Czechoslovakia5%84%17% Czech Rep. 11% Slovakia54% Czech Rep.65% Slovakia
Hungary4%83%10%71%
Estonia3%80%25%39%
Rumania1%79%2%84%
Poland4%79%26%55%
Latvia3%78%31%47%
Bulgaria3%76%4%80%

Source: Central and Eastern Eurobarometer, nº 2 (1992) and Eurobarometer, Public Opinion in the Candidate Countries, Autumn 2001[32]

Mutual isolation

A cumbersome legacy of the communist period is the lack of contacts among Eastern European countries. Unlike Western European countries that have experienced almost half a century of increasingly close commercial and political contacts in a process that affects even countries that are not members or that have recently joined the EU, the experience in the East since 1945 has been the opposite: isolation. Neither the Warsaw Pact nor COMECOM, created in answer to NATO and the ECSC respectively, ever functioned as horizontal structures for co-operation (except formally), but rather as co-ordinating bodies under Soviet control. Military and commercial relations within the Warsaw Pact and COMECOM were by and large bilateral –between each member country and the USSR-. There was never anything comparable to freedom of movement within the region; on the contrary, internal borders were strictly controlled.

The experience of subordination to the USSR was compensated by cultivating national narcissism in which each country compared itself with the USSR, or with Russia in the case of the Baltic countries (and shined by comparison) and completely ignored its neighbours. But the communist era is not entirely to blame for this legacy: relations among the nations in the region, since their relatively recent creation in the 19th and 20th centuries, have been continuously fractious due to the lack of historical legitimacy of their borders and the problems involving national minorities. These tensions were encouraged by the western powers (France, Russia, Germany, Austria, England) and by Russia, who wanted to increase their influence in the region or even to annex its territories. The insecurity and fear of their neighbours amidst which many of the states in the region were born continued through the 20th century. The pax sovietica froze these disputes while doing nothing to improve relations in the region. The result is general mutual mistrust, especially between countries that share borders.

A palpable example of this isolation is the tremendous lack of individuals who understand and speak other languages of the region. These languages are practically not taught at all, except among national minorities (for example, Rumanian Hungarians study Hungarian), an exception that obviously does not indicate interest in another culture. The international news reported in the media also demonstrates mutual lack of interest: information on neighbouring countries is minimal and limited to issues that could affect the readers’ country. It is striking, for example, that compared to the great attention given in the West to the Yugoslavian wars, only brief notes appeared in the Eastern European press during those years, except for issues that affected neighbouring countries, such as the effects of the trade embargo on Serbia for the Bulgarian economy and traffic on the Danube. Since the 1989 crisis “news interest” has been focused westward in terms of politics, economy and culture.

The fictitious regional co-operation represented by the international structures of the communist period were replaced after 1989 by fierce rivalry among the countries of the region to position themselves as well as possible for trade with the West and to lead the race to join the EC-EU. At the same time that they were negotiating association agreements with the EC and struggling to qualify themselves as candidates for accession, the countries in the region were raising new tariff barriers against products from their neighbours while dropping these barriers to the Western market. The result was that trade within the region dropped from 47% of exports in 1989 to 23% in 1995 (trade among candidate countries or to former Soviet republics); the statistics on imports are nearly the same (a drop from 48% to 24%).[33]

The tendency for each country in the region to negotiate on its own with the EC was rejected by community negotiators, who preferred to establish a common framework, at least with the countries that had the best and clearest chances of accession. EC negotiators likewise emphasised that it was negative and incoherent for trade to drop off among bordering countries all aspiring to join the EC. In large part because of this European pressure, and also because of the effects on the GNP of all the countries caused by this decline in the regional internal market after the break-up of the COMECOM, the heads of state of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary held their first meeting in the Hungarian city of Visegrad on February 15, 1991. This became known as the Visegrad Group and set out with the explicitly stated mission of co-ordinating negotiations with the EC, although it also acted as a forum for co-operation in their relations with the USSR and then with Russia. There were still important issues to bring to a close with Russia, such as the withdrawal of Soviet troops and negotiations on the value of the installations the Russians were leaving behind, as well as the cost of the withdrawal itself.

The main achievement of this co-operative forum was the agreement signed in Krakow in December 1992 to create a common free-market zone in 2001. They were later joined by Slovenia (1996), Rumania (1997) and Bulgaria (1999) and now the three Baltic countries, Ukraine and Croatia also wish to join. The entry conditions are: having signed an association agreement with the EU; being a member of the WTO; and having the approval of the members. The decisive influence of the EC-EU on the creation of the group is officially recognised in its documents: “At the EU’s recommendation, the future members are to prepare for joining the EU by establishing free trade areas”. [34] In any case, the provisional character of the so-called CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement), which sees itself as a mere instrument to gain entry into the EU, has resulted in a rejection of any kind of institutionalisation: CEFTA has no joint secretariat and no headquarters.

The creation of CEFTA brought about a 40% reduction in tariffs on industrial products in 1993, 50% in 1994 and 80% in 1996. The reduction in tariffs on agricultural products, weakened by foreign competition, has been much slower. Despite the reduction in tariffs, the internal regional market has not recovered, though at least it is no longer on the decline. In 1998, 6% of Polish foreign trade was within CEFTA; the figure for the Hungarian economy was 9%; 10% for Slovenia; and 15% for the Czechs and Slovaks because of the continuation of strong ties between the two republics, including a bilateral free trade agreement and a customs union.[35] By comparison, in 1992, 22% of Hungarian exports, 11% of Polish exports and 30% of Slovenian exports went to COMECOM countries[36]. This means that internal trade has declined by more than 50% overall since 1992. By that year these countries exported practically nothing to Russia, so that this decline was in internal trade within Central and Eastern Europe.

In any case, the political impact of the Visegrad Group has been very limited, especially since the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Hungary’s relations with Slovakia have been tense since the latter’s independence because of the Hungarian minority (about 600,000 people, 11% of the Slovakian population) and the conflict involving the construction of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam on the Danube (with the resulting changes in the course of this river that divides Slovakia from Hungary). Also, for several years, the Czech governments led by the liberal Vaclav Klaus, in clear dissonance with the “Central Europeanist” spirit of president Vaclav Havel, adopted a posture of indifference and unwillingness to co-operate with neighbouring countries. In 1993, Vaclav Klaus said that the Visegrad group was “an artificial process created by the West” and that the Czech Republic could be ready to join the EC “in two or three years”[37]. At that time (1993-1997) the Czech Republic was held in high esteem by community institutions and international financial institutions and its economic indicators appeared to make it the most successful country to change over to a market economy, to the point that Czech leaders were bold enough to “give lessons” on liberalism to the EU. In this context, the Czechs considered their association with their ex-communist neighbours harmful to their image and to their chances of quickly joining the EU. This clearly manifested attitude paralysed the Visegrad Group as a political forum. However, in 1997 the apparent Czech miracle came crumbling down and revealed that it had been a fictitious economic transition: supposed privatisations of economic activity were merely nominal and the model of universal distribution of shares to the population had become a way of reclaiming corporate assets for the state (through their later acquisition by state-held financial companies). In this way, the alliances of interests that in the communist period had prevented the closure of unprofitable enterprises were maintained, but with statistical results that made it appear that a model transition had been accomplished at very little cost to society. In 1997, the sharp devaluation of the Czech crown forced the government of Vaclav Klaus to acknowledge that the country was living far above its means and to initiate an austerity plan that should have been started in 1990.[38] After this, the Czech Republic developed new ways of creating a real market economy but the country was no longer considered as the central European model in international fora. In the same year that the Czechs received a lesson in humility, 1997, NATO announced at its July meeting in Madrid that it was inviting Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland to join the organisation. Almost simultaneously, the European Union decided to begin negotiations for the accession of the three countries. All this was an incentive for the group to collaborate, since the decisions of NATO and the EU made it illogical for the three countries to compete for the lead in the two processes. Finally, the change of government in the Czech Republic after the 1998 elections, which gave the victory to the social democrats –much more favourable than the liberals to collaboration with their central European neighbours– brushed aside one of the factors that had prevented collaboration. In fact, the group of countries that met in Visegrad in 1991 (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) now plan to continue collaborating after they join the European Union, following the Benelux model[39].

Since 1989 other regional collaboration initiatives have emerged, though with much less specific weight than CEFTA. These include the Central European initiative, the Carpatian Euroregion, the Baltic Council and the Black Sea Economic Co-operation Pact[40]. The Central European Initiative was created in 1989, bringing together Italy, Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia in a collaboration program to deal with border issues such as the environment, telecommunications and transportation. At present it brings together 16 countries, reaching as far east as Moldavia and Belorussia. Its main activity involves close collaboration with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to which it provides guides for making investments. The Carpatian Euroregion, created in 1993, co-ordinates sub-national bodies in five countries (Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Slovakia and Ukraine) and handles local development and environmental protection projects in the Carpatian region. In 1990 Turkey proposed the creation of a Black Sea Council, formally established in 1992 with the participation of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldavia, Rumania, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. The great heterogeneity of its members and interests has made it difficult to come to decisions in what was intended to be essentially a co-ordinated economic effort, and the members of the group share a very small market and very limited bilateral relations. Meanwhile, Turkey has failed in its attempt to establish lasting influence in the predominantly Muslim former Soviet republics and in those with languages related to Turkish, since it lacks the economic means to become a regional power.

The Council of Baltic Sea States, created in 1992, brings together all the countries on the Baltic Sea: the Russian Federation, Germany, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Iceland, plus the European Commission.[41] Its express objective is co-operation on the economy, the environment and civil and border security. It has played an important role, as an institution led by Baltic States that already belong to the EU, in the promotion of the candidature of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for accession to the EU. These three countries have strong cultural and historic ties with Sweden (Estonia and Latvia were part of the Swedish kingdom in the 17th century) and with Germany. The three Baltic countries, but especially Estonia and Latvia, were very germanised by the presence of the Order of Teutonic Knights in their territory since the 15th century and by their membership in the Hanseatic League. The predominance of German culture in the region began to decline only when Russian nationalism challenged it in the 19th century, closing German-language universities and making the use of Russian obligatory at all levels of schooling. Lithuania has a different history in which Germany has played a smaller role and Poland a much larger one.

German mediation

Contrary to what Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and many others would have wanted, after 1989 Germany became the unrivalled power in the region, not only as a trade partner and investor, but as a political intermediary –a role it had been playing since the times of Willy Brandt’s realpolitik, when West Germany became the intermediary between Eastern Europe and the West-. Germany is unquestionably the EU country most sensitive to the problems, risks and needs of its eastern neighbours, obviously because of its proximity, but also for other reasons:

  • Reunification made the new Germany heir to the Eastern European market that had existed between the former East Germany and the other countries in the region. Before 1989, East Germany was the second-largest trading partner of the countries in the region, after the USSR, and West Germany was the third. Also, the existence of communist East Germany gave Germans in the west an understanding of the mechanisms, habits and workings of a society of this kind, far superior to that of any other Western country.
  • All over Eastern Europe to the Volga there have been large German communities dating back to the Middle Ages. Their role as city-builders and spreaders of modernisation clashed with nascent local nationalisms in the 19th century. After the Second World War, about 14 million Germans were expelled from the region, the official excuse being their (imagined or real) collaboration with Nazi troops. But a significant German presence remained there and this has sparked Germany’s interest in the area.
  • The generous refugee policy that Germany maintained in the early 90s made it the destination for hundreds of thousands of impoverished citizens of Rumania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavian and Soviet republics. Three fifths of the immigrants who have reached the EU from Eastern Europe (about 880,000 people in all) are now in Germany.

In what has proven to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, the rest of Western Europe was convinced in the early nineties that Eastern Europe was “German territory” (with certain exceptions such as the traditional French influence in Rumania and Italian influence in Slovenia), which translated into a general inhibition as everyone waited for German entrepreneurs, bankers, consultants and politicians to take their places. And this is what happened, with the result that Germany is now by far the main trade partner and investor in the region, providing 25% of imports and 20% direct investment[42] (in Hungary and the Czech Republic these figures are much higher: between 30 and 40% of foreign trade is with Germany and 40% of direct foreign investment is German[43]). Meanwhile, German directly rivals English as a foreign language. Several countries in the region –most significantly Poland and the Czech Republic– would have preferred a more multilateral relationship with Western Europe, that is, one not channelled through Germany, a country they mistrust for historical reasons[44]. There is a significant underlying fear of Germany not only in the countries that have been past victims of German expansionism, but also in others that were captive allies before and during the Second World War, such as Hungary and Rumania. In any case, all of them would rather diversify their alliances in Western Europe.

In consonance with this process of economic incursion, in the first half of the nineties Germany became the EU’s main proponent of quick and extensive eastward enlargement. Germany’s unilateral decision to recognise both Croatia and Slovenia without waiting for European consensus on the issue –a stance widely criticised as rash in Western Europe– was nonetheless seen in Eastern European as proof of Germany’s commitment to the area, strengthening its political prestige and leadership in the region.

Paradoxically, when enlargement became an imminent reality, the problem of the costs involved became the focus of German concerns. Germany, as the main contributor to the community’s coffers, in 1999 became the main obstacle to enlargement by proposing that this be accomplished at no cost, implying a redistribution of existing funds and consequently a reduction in aid received by countries that were already members. An agreement to this respect was finally reached at the Brussels summit of October 2002.

Conclusions: The risks of not enlarging. The EU as a pacifying agent

How is it that these eight countries have managed to consolidate democratic systems despite the fact that most of them lack pluralist traditions, and amidst great economic crisis, without a middle class independent of state income, and carrying a burdensome communist legacy? The obvious answer is their determination and their need to join the European Union. This external factor is the only explanation for the triumph of democracy when all economic, cultural and political factors made it much more likely that many of these countries would go the way of authoritarianism or chaos. Something similar can be said of the market economy: without EU pressure their economic transformations would most likely have followed the Chinese model, in a best-case scenario, and the Albanian model in the worst case; that is, towards a market economy with heavy state intervention or an economy in the hands of organised crime.

The EU could have tolerated authoritarian systems on its eastern borders (and did, in fact, until 1989), but it would have been much more difficult to accept unstable systems that, unlike the communists regimes, were not able to prevent their people from heading west, or simply did not care. In this regard, the waves of refugees caused by the Yugoslavian wars and the minor civil war in Albania in 1997 was a crucial factor. The EU realised that it was necessary to intervene to prevent its neighbours’ instabilities from reaching its own soil.

In addition to being a democratising force and boosting the market economy, the EU has become the main pacifier of conflicts in the region –conflicts that are almost all related to national minorities-. The situation of the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, of Hungarians in Rumania, Slovakia and Serbia, and of Turks in Bulgaria, has improved considerably because of pressure from the EU, in terms of recognition of their cultural and political rights[45]. The most significant case is that of Russians in Estonia, where they make up 29% of the population, and in Latvia (33%). In the early 90s they faced national policies that denied them the right to citizenship and the vote. EU pressure, exercised indirectly through the OSCE and the European Council, led to the recognition of this minority’s rights, thus ending a conflict that could have become very serious if the Russian Federation had become involved.

What would the EU lose if enlargement did not occur on schedule and were delayed indefinitely? It would probably lose markets and investment opportunities, but this is not a weighty argument in favour of enlargement, given the small size of the candidates’ economies today, even taken as a group. The security argument is much more important: deprived of the anticipated accession to the EU and without the EC’s democratising and pacifying influence, political life in the region would most likely slide into more authoritarian patterns and conflicts involving minorities would occur in a political context much less conducive to peaceful solutions. The resulting risks include armed conflicts, waves of refugees and the exportation of the criminality that these conflicts generate. The Commission’s offer of an open door to the future accession of the former Yugoslavian states, which are still very far from meeting the Copenhagen criteria (except for Slovenia, obviously), must be understood in the context of building a more secure Europe, which is the goal of eastward enlargement.

Carmen González Enríquez

Political Science Professor. UNED


[1] .- Joan Lofgren, “A different kind of Union”, Transitions, 4:6, 1997, 46-52

[2] .-J. Chinn and R. Kaiser, Russians as the new minority, Westview Press, Colorado, 1996. P. Kolstoe, Russians in the Former Soviet Republics, Hurst and Co., London, 1995.

[3] .-Gerard F. Brillantes, “Uncertainty around the Baltic Sea”, Transitions, 4:6, 1997, 53-57

[4] .- Josef C. Brada “The European Community and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland”, Report on Eastern Europe, 2:49, 1991, 27-32

[5] .- In 1991, France vetoed a community agreement to increase meat product quotas for Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

[6] .- El País, November 23, 1991

[7] .- Alexis Galinos, “Central Europe and the EU: Prospects for Closer Integration”, RFE/RL Research Report, 3:29, 1994, 19-25

[8] .- Patrice Dabrowski, “East European Trade. Getting the West Involved”. Report on Eastern Europe, 2:42, 1991, 30-37

[9] .-http://europa.eu.int/comm/enlargment/pas/phare

[10].- EC regulations 1267/99 (ISPA) and 1268/99 (SAPARD), both June 21, 1999

[11] .- Uniting Europe, nº 200, September 16, 2002

[12] .- Uniting Europe, nº 206, October 30, 2002

[13] .- Eurostat. News Release, nº 31, March 2001. hhtp:// europa.eu.int/comm/eurostat

[14] .- “The impact of Eastern Enlargement on Employment and Labour Markets in the EU Member States”. European Integration Consortium. Study ordered by the European Commission. 2001

[15].- Eurobarometer. Public Opinion in the Candidate Countries. 2001. European Commission. A May 2000 survey by the Central European Opinion Research Group also showed a slight inclination for Czechs and Hungarians to emigrate. This was higher among Poles and those not invited to the first round (Rumania and Bulgaria). RFE/RL Newsline, July 3, 2001. 

[16] .- Corruption is measured by Transparency International (TI) on the basis of interviews with entrepreneurs who have invested in the country in question. It is, therefore, a barometer of the corruption “perceived” by entrepreneurs, not real corruption, which would require more costly and complex studies. In any case, the TI index is very valuable as an instrument for comparative measurements in the countries included. See www.transparency.org

[17] .- TI began collecting data in 1995, but most of the candidates have been included in the measurement recently.

[18] .- These figures refer only to the candidate countries. They do not include the significant Gypsy minorities in Serbia and Montenegro (about 500,000 people) and Macedonia (180,000), or the smaller minorities in any of the other former Yugoslavian republics except Slovenia. Jeremy Druker “Present but unaccounted for”, Transitions, 4:3, 1997, 22-23

[19] .- See the reference in the previous note

[20] .- RFE/RL Newsline, August 10, 2000

[21] .- Eurobarometer. Public Opinion in the European Union, nº 56, autumn 2001. European Commission

[22] .- Andrés Ortega, “Pequeña gran Europa”, El País, October 14, 2002

[23] .-Eurobarometer. Public Opinion in the Candidate Countries. Autumn 2001. European Commission

[24] .- This does not refer to Medieval kingdoms, which, strictly speaking, cannot be considered states.

[25] .- Rudolf Hermann,  “Ready for the Chop”, Central Europe Review, August 1999, www.ce-review.org.

[26] .- These figures are estimates and are open to debate. Furthermore, these minorities are the first to try to emigrate to the mother-nation (Poland or Hungary) and are therefore decreasing in number.

[27] .-Tim Snyder, “Look East, Face West”, Transitions, 5:9, 1998,54-57

[28] .- Carmen González Enríquez “La protección de las minorías nacionales transfronterizas”, in the Analysis section of this website

[29] .- Eurobarometer, Public Opinion in the Candidate Countries. Autumn 2001. European Commission. The question on fears related to the EU is closed. The persons interviewed were offered a list of answers, which, except for one on the cost of enlargement for their country, are the same in the questionnaire used in the candidate countries and in the member countries. The closed nature of the question means that we cannot know what fears the interviewees would have expressed spontaneously if they had been asked an open question.

[30] .- Eurobarometer Public Opinion in the Candidate Countries. Autumn 2001. European Commission.

[31] .- On the effects of economic transition on social structure, see Carmen González Enríquez, “Cambio social en Hungría desde 1989”. Papeles del Este electronic magazine, nº1, www.ucm.es/bucm/cee/papeles  January 2001

[32] .- The 1991 question was: “If your country joined the European Community in the future, would you be very much in favor, somewhat in favor, somewhat opposed or very opposed?” (the two favorable responses are included in the chart). The 2001 question is: “If there were a referendum tomorrow on your country joining the EU, would you vote for or against it?” (The percentage of those who would vote in favor is indicated in the chart).                                           

[33].- European Commission: “Toward greater economic integration. European Union financial, political, commercial and investment aid aimed at Central and Eastern Europe”. Brussels, 1997

[34] .- CEFTA website, www.cefta.org

[35] .- Jeremy Druker, “Vestiges of Visegrad”, Transitions, 5:9, 1998, 46-53

[36] .- Hugh Miall, Shaping the new Europe, Pinter Publishers, London, 1993

[37] .- Jan B. de Weydenthal “EC keeps Central Europe at arm’s length”, RFE/RL Research Report, 2:5, 1993, 29-31

[38] .- Jiri Pehe, “Czechs fall from their ivory tower”, Transitions, 4:3, 1997, 22-27

[39] .- Uniting Europe, nº 200, September 16, 2002

[40].- Irena M. Kroumova-Tzenkova, “Central and Eastern Europe between regionalism and European integration. New forms of intrarregional co-operation”. Mimeo, Diplomatic School, 1996

[41] .- Another Baltic forum with less weight brings together Estonia, Latvia y Lithuania in the Baltic Council of Ministers, created in 1994.

[42] .- Carmela Martín, “Las principales repercusiones económicas de la ampliación de la UE desde la óptica de España”. Papeles de Economía, nº 91, 2002, 202-216

[43] .- Information provided by the embassies of Hungary and the Czech Republic in Spain

[44] .- The Czech Republic is also in conflict with Germany over demands by Germans who were expelled from the Sudetenland after WWII to repeal the decrees ordering their expulsion.

[45] .- Carmen González Enríquez, “Minorías nacionales, el papel pacificador de UE”. Política Exterior, nº 78,  December 2000, 43-52. A book on this subject will be published soon: “Conflictos étnicos en Europa del Este. Origen, prevención y resolución” (Carmen González Enríquez, compiler), Instituto Universitario General Gutiérrez Mellado.

Carmen González

Written by Carmen González Enríquez

Carmen González Enríquez is Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute, where she heads the Migrations and Public Opinion areas. She is also a Full Professor in the Department of Political Science at the UNED. Research Areas: in recent years she has taken part in several research projects on migration funded by the European Commission, including ITHACA (Integration, Transnational Mobility and Human, Social […]