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Western Press Review: The Politics Of EU Expansion

  • Ron Synovitz

Prague, 21 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses again on the politics of expanding the European Union eastward.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Decision-making structures must be reformed

A commentary today by William Pfaff warns about the failure of EU leaders to make structural changes to the union at this month's Amsterdam summit. Pfaff says that decision-making structures must be reformed, along with the common agricultural policy and the way that regional funds are distributed. Pfaff writes: "All the important issues are once again pushed off into the future. The decision to expand is the union's way to run away from its problems. It will expand, and after that think about how to make an expanded Europe work -- even though today, with only 15 members, its members have proved incapable of dealing with the problems of weighted voting, or of reforming policies on agricultural and regional subsidies that everyone knows are indefensible."

Pfaff goes on to say: "If the European Union had remained at six members, its integration would undoubtedly be much more advanced than it is now. There might not only be a single currency already but the rudiments of a coherent European foreign and security policy. With expansion to 15 countries, members were brought in whose views, outlook, ambitions and interests diverged from those of the original group. The conflict between the demands of expansion and those of closer integration were underestimated from the start."

Pfaff concludes that regardless of EU expansion, Europe will soon become divided between those countries that adopt a common currency and those which fail to meet the criteria. He writes: "The future belongs to two Europes, related but separate. Once will be small, far more integrated than today, able to make decisions, capable of playing a world role in political affairs as well as economics. The second will be large, more loosely associated, sharing a single market with the other Europe, its members enjoying variable links to the core economy and core currency, cooperating with core Europe on a great many issues but not bound by its decisions, nor able to block them. This is the solution that seems dictated by Europe's realities. It is not a bad solution. It gives all what they really want."

HANDELSBLATT: Union cannot expand without endangering efficiency

Georg Watzlawek comments in today's edition of the German financial newspaper on failures EU leaders at the Amsterdam summit. Watzlawek says: "EU incapacity to conduct the reforms puts middle European countries in a difficult position. Bonn is the first to be against the expansion and it is clear that the expansion will first be financed from the reform of agrarian and political structures. But the less the old Union is opened, the smaller the possibilities are for growth. The efficiency of EU institutions also is diminished by a limited amount of members. Instead of reducing the costs of the institutions in Amsterdam and taking decisions to make them more functional, the heads of the nations postponed the cleaning of their house to the next century. That's why the union cannot afford a real expansion without endangering its efficiency."

Watzlawek concludes that: "It would be naive to bet on a sudden enthusiasm for reforms in western Europe. What we observe is only an attempt to limit the damage. The EU has to propose for the newcomers a clear, institutionally anchored prospective. A ceremonial, but meaningless 'Conference on Membership' is not sufficient."

WASHINGTON POST: Kohl's call for expansion motivated by national self-interest

William Drozdiak writes in an analysis today on Germany's policies toward Eastern and Central Europe. Drozdiak writes: "A subtle change in perspective is taking over Germany's boardrooms and policy-making councils: that (Germany's) future stability and prosperity depends not so much on closer partnership with France but rather on a more concentrated blend of diplomacy and investments in the east."

Drozdiak says: "Chancellor Helmut Kohl's early call for the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become members of NATO and the EU by the year 2000 has made him the most popular foreign politician in those countries. Mr Kohl's push was motivated not just by generosity but by national interest. By extending NATO's security domain to the east, Mr Kohl ensured that Germany, for the first time in history, would have friendly relations with all nine of its immediate neighbors."

Drozdiak writes: "The EU's expansion plans include the same three countries plus Estonia and Slovenia, which will fulfill a goal of German diplomacy to extend Europe's zone of tranquillity toward the Balkan region, the Baltic states and other parts of the former Soviet Union."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Market reforms won't stall in countries excluded in expansion

In today's edition, Matthew Kaminski writes an analysis questioning what he calls conventional wisdom on Eastern Europe. Kaminski disagrees with the view that market reforms will slow down in countries that have not been recommended for the first talks on EU expansion. To the contrary, Kaminski says, the left-out countries like Romania are "more determined than ever to press ahead with the market reforms."

Kaminski writes that "the economic successes of countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will only encourage the laggards to speed up. Sure, the political blow of missing the EU and NATO marks wasn't pleasant for their leaders, who have made membership in both clubs a top priority. Yet the concrete impact on their economies and reform programs looks quite minimal. Even so, difficult tasks lie ahead for the uninvited countries of the region. Bulgaria must prove it can swallow the pain of a restrictive currency regime and carry out proposed privatizations. Slovakia and Croatia have political troubles that need sorting out if they are ever to join Western institutions. In the Baltics, Latvia needs better laws and Lithuania must cut subsidies to its industrial sector. Romania, the region's second-largest state, will be watched closely as a bellwether of how well the "outs" are faring. The picture should become clearer over the next few months, as Romania speeds up its privatization program and seeks to enact legislation that would make foreign investment easier."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Germany "fed up" with EU financial obligations

Ian Traynor writes an analysis from Bonn today concluding that Germans are getting fed up with their burden of financial obligations to the EU. The basis of Traynor's piece comes from what he calls "confidential audits drawn up last month by the finance ministers of Germany's 16 federal states." According to those audits, Traynor says, "Germany pays in about 30 percent of the EU budget, but the net level rises to almost 70 percent when benefits from Brussels are considered." He says: "The finance ministers' estimates, revealed yesterday, showed that in 1995 Germany paid (in net) more than double that of France and Britain." Traynor concludes that: "The huge costs incurred by German unification, record unemployment, falling tax receipts and a public finances crisis are all helping to mobilize German discontent with being this EU's biggest funder. Over the next year, elections are due in various states, culminating in national elections in September 1998. The EU budget issue is an easy target for grandstanding politicians."

LE MONDE: Britain's Blair creating new view on the Euro

An editorial in today's edition of the French newspaper addresses what the it says is a new view on the part of the British government toward a common European currency. The editorial says: "The government of Tony Blair wants to change the mood of Great Britain concerning the Euro. The task is enormous when you consider the massive campaign conducted in recent years by the media and the government in London. It is an important change for the European Union -- a satisfactory one that also should attract the attention of Germany and France where, we must say, public opinion appears, as the time goes on, not much more enthusiastic about the Euro than Great Britain has been."

DIE PRESSE: Schengen accords symbolize success for unification process

An editorial in the Austrian newspaper praises the Schengen accords, which call for free movement across borders of signatory countries. The newspaper says that the Schengen accords are "not only a success for Austria, but also for the European unification process because with free movement Europe finally will become a perceptible entity. Whoever in the future goes by car from Italy to France and then on to Spain will be able to realize that he is in a community of nations growing together. How absurd does it seem when goods can move freely through this area but people cannot. "

EXPRESS: Coordination of police forces provided Schengen accords

An editorial in the Cologne newspaper today attacks the critics of the Schengen accords. The newspaper says: "Whoever fears that fewer border controls will lead to more crime should remember that the Schengen accords will also result in regulating the cooperation of police forces in Europe. To believe that organized crime and the Mafia are restricted by checks of personal identification cards is, anyhow, naive."

(Translations from German and French by Bob McMahon and Aurora Gallego)