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EU: Brussels Says No Point In Near Neighbors Seeking To Join Union Now

  • Breffni O'Rourke --> European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner says there is no point in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia seeking to start the process of joining the union, because they will not be accepted. Ferrero-Waldner called for realism, and said it is clear that a great amount of work is needed to prepare these countries for EU membership. But she foreshadowed closer relations with the near-neighbors, which would bring them some of the advantages of membership.

Prague, 4 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union, which nearly doubled its membership in May 2004, is still trying to properly absorb the 10 newcomers.

Assessments of the first anniversary of eastward expansion this week are generally positive for the joining countries. "When one looks at the past year, the new members of the European Union have clearly benefited from the enlargement," said Peter Zervakis, a senior analyst on EU affairs at the Germany-based Bertellsmann Foundation.

Fears that their small economies would be overrun by the EU juggernaut have not materialized, and their exports to Western Europe are booming.

By contrast, the older EU members have had a more mixed result. They have had to watch as investment flowed away from them to the eastern newcomers. And some, notably France and Germany, have been rattled by the European Commission's plans to extend the single market into the services sector, which would give the new members a decisive advantage due to their low labor costs.
"Behind the scenes, Warsaw is the most active promoter of speedy expansion prospects for Ukraine, and also for Moldova, and even -- as far away as the Caucasus -- for Georgia as well." - Zervakis

Zervakis points out other difficulties. "For one thing, the West Europeans, particularly the central westerners -- Germany, Austria -- have had to fight against high unemployment, which is a result of globalization and also of the EU enlargement," he said.

This atmosphere is further complicated by the difficult process of ratifying the EU's first constitution.

Thus, prospects for further enlargement beyond Romania and Bulgaria, which are set to join in 2007, look dim. Turkey is already waiting, but the likelihood it will join in less than 10 or 15 years is small.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told Reuters in Brussels on 3 May that near-neighbors like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia would be well advised not to apply for European Union membership now, because they would be rebuffed.

Ukraine, in particular, has made EU membership a top priority.

She said Ukraine's peaceful Orange Revolution has shown that Ukrainians share European values, but the debate must be brought "down to Earth." She described Ukraine as a huge country needing major changes before it could be considered for membership. She said the same goes for Moldova and Georgia.

Without specifying details, she spoke of instead giving these neighbors a stake in EU policies, and some of the advantages enjoyed by members.

However, the near-neighbors have found a strong supporter in Poland, the largest of the new EU member states. Warsaw was a key mediator in the peaceful transfer of power in Ukraine, and Zervakis said Poland -- along with other Easterners -- is working to bring more new members into the EU.

"Behind the scenes, Warsaw is the most active promoter of speedy expansion prospects for Ukraine, and also for Moldova, and even -- as far away as the Caucasus -- for Georgia as well," Zervakis said.

This relates to Poland's geopolitical view that all of Eastern Europe should be kept out of the Russian sphere of influence, and instead "Europeanized" by the West as quickly as possible. Zervakis said Warsaw's thinking on this point differs from that of officials from western EU states, who favor engagement and involvement with Russia as a means of achieving regional stability.

Zervakis sees the different views on Russia's place in Europe as affecting debate on the expansion process.

The issue is: Should the EU avoid continued expansion and just keep the "good-neighbor policy," as favored by most western EU members? Or should it actively push forward with expansion, even as far as Belarus, once that unreformed country has undergone a regime change?