By Ron Synjovitz and Dora Slaba
Prague, 15 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today focuses on the debate over the proposed eastward expansion of the European Union.
WALL STREET JOURNAL: EU Enlargement Costs Likely Outweigh Benefits
Today's newspaper says in an editorial that the potential costs of enlarging the EU and the muddled enlargement process make it hard to be enthusiastic about enlargement. The newspaper says: "The real reason for caution about EU enlargement is that, if carelessly handled, the costs to both aspirants and current members may end up outweighing the benefits. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise us if some of the candidates were to say 'Thanks, but no thanks' to the EU's invitation to join."
The Wall Street Journal criticizes the EU for, in its words, "Raising trade barriers against Eastern European countries following the peaceful revolutions of 1989" and "spending the next eight years in a protracted period of self-absorption, resulting in almost non-existent growth and record levels of unemployment."
The editorial says: "While the EU undid much of the good of internal trade liberalization with myriad new rules and regulations intended to harmonize the single market, many Eastern European countries successfully shrunk the size of government and rapidly achieved substantial economic growth.
The newspaper concludes: "It is hard to recommend expanding or joining an organization that has become so fuzzy about its goals. (But) given the history of Eastern Europe, it would be understandable if these countries concluded that the EU's many drawbacks were a price worth paying for full 'inclusion' in the community of Western European nations."
INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNE: East-West Divide Still Too Far West
Reginald Dale comments today that NATO should include Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary; and that the European Union should embrace those three states plus Estonia and Slovenia as new members. Dale writes: "Not everyone in the West thinks this is such a good idea. Particularly in America, it is quite common to hear people warning against 'drawing new lines' on the map of Europe. Those warnings are ill-conceived. What matters is not whether lines in Europe are new - few of them are - but whether they are in the right place. The old East-West line, the Iron Curtain, was clearly in the wrong place - too far west."
He writes: "Russia will not be invited to join either the EU or NATO in the foreseeable future, if ever. Nor should it be. It is simply too big, too different and too potentially destabilizing, if not hostile. That means there will be some kind of political dividing line somewhere between Berlin and Moscow."
Dale continues: "Wherever that line is drawn, there can be little argument that the countries to which NATO and the EU are now offering membership ought to be on the Western side of it. Europe's eastern frontier has always been fluid. But there is a fairly well-defined historical, cultural and political line separating the countries seeking EU entry from those that are members of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States."
He says: "The top seven countries in achieving progress toward democracy, moves to a market economy and economic growth (include) the five that the EU wants to admit first, followed by Latvia and Lithuania. All are to the west of the cultural divide."
FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: EU Expansion May Cause Shock
The newspaper published yesterday a commentary by Lionel Barber on the merits of EU expansion. Barber wrote: "Every time the European Union opens its doors to new members, the result is culture shock all round."
He wrote: "The EU's plans to include Central and Eastern Europe spell culture shock on a grand scale. Ten former communist countries, whose combined GDP is less than that of the Netherlands, have applied for membership. The first wave will not join until 2002-2003 at the earliest; but taking in countries such as Estonia, Hungary, or Poland will change the union beyond recognition."
Barber wrote: "Imagine Spain agreeing that Romania should have an equal vote, let alone an equal share of the Brussels hand-outs in regional aid. Will Germany allow cheap Polish labor to circulate freely west of the Oder? Consider, too, the more mundane business of managing a Union of 20-plus members."
Barber said: "After a heated debate, the Commission has come down in favor of five countries: the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, and Slovenia." He concluded: "Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania will probably have to wait, though the last word rests with the 15 EU member states."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Without Reforms, EU Expansion Perilous
Andreas Oldag warned yesterday against inviting too many Eastern and Central European countries to become members of the EU. Oldag wrote: "The European Union can, by offering to take in new members, absorb to some extent the disappointments caused by the limited NATO expansion. Yet welcoming too many might be more than anyone can handle - and not only because of the EU's tight budget."
Oldag concluded: "It is obvious that the mechanisms for EU decision making which were agreed at last month's Amsterdam summit will not allow the union to work effectively at some future date when there will be 20 or more members. Unless there are further reforms, the European Union runs the risk of jamming up its own gears."