Prague, 26 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The postcommunist countries of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia -- together with Malta and Cyprus -- are to enter the European Union on 1 May.
Many citizens of these countries say they owe their freedom primarily to the United States for standing up to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They also say they have enjoyed good relations with the United States since the fall of communism. But -- given the still sharp differences over Iraq between the EU and the U.S. -- will the attitudes of these new members change the bloc's stance as a whole?
"One fundamental likelihood of the enlargement is that we are bringing in a number of NATO members who understand they live in a dangerous neighborhood and understand that they owe their current freedoms very much to American resolve and American policies through the Cold War."
Representatives from both sides of the Atlantic sought answers to this and other questions at a two-day international conference last week in the Czech Republic. The conference was organized by the Prague Society for International Cooperation, the Global Panel Foundation and The American Foreign Policy Council. The discussions were frank and heated and the participants did not always agree.
Wayne Merry is a senior fellow of the American Foreign Policy Council, a Washington-based policy institute. He said he believes a more pro-American EU stance is likely, but will only last a short time.
"[World War II] divided what's sometimes called 'Mittel-Europa' from integration into a broader European organic hold. Now we are seeing that artificial division finally come to an end. I think it's a very good thing, but it means that the links that bind European societies together are much stronger than any links there are across the Atlantic," Merry says.
Martin Walker is editor in chief at United Press International in Washington. He mostly agrees with Merry on that issue, but believes the pro-American stance may last longer because of historical reasons.
"One fundamental likelihood of the enlargement is that we are bringing in a number of NATO members who understand they live in a dangerous neighborhood and understand that they owe their current freedoms very much to American resolve and American policies through the Cold War. That means, I think, that for quite some time to come, there will be a much greater weight of pro-Americanism within the EU. I think also that there is going to be a greater readiness to accept that sometimes there will be a need for a robust military action," Walker says.
Walker adds, however, that how long that will last is an open question.
Vojtech Cepl is a former justice of the Czech Constitutional Court. He says in general, when groups reinforce their cohesion, they usually do so at the expense of outsiders. He says the EU is not such a cohesive group, but he says the group bound by "trans-Atlantic" values is.
He says, however, that the new EU members run the risk of copying the older EU members on everything, including, Cepl says, their anti-Americanism.
"I am afraid that the intelligentsia and the elites of the ascending countries unfortunately copy the Western European elites, who are, in my opinion, incomprehensibly -- and rather in a silly way -- anti-American," Cepl says.
Phil Hutchinson is the principal and professor of the Royal Military College of Science in the United Kingdom. He says he believes that the post-enlargement EU will become more friendly toward the U.S.
"I would guess, 'yes,' I think that the present difficulties that we have with America are very temporary, and mostly focussed in 'old Europe'. The 'new' European members are more conscious of security threats, given their origin, and therefore more conscious of the need for defense against security threats, which is what America will provide for us," Hutchinson says.
Piotr Ogrodzinski is the director of the American department of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He says he prefers to look beyond the current difficulties.
"At this moment, I feel that politicians of the majority of European countries think in categories of leaving behind certain misunderstandings from the period before the operations in Iraq. And I think that there is a general consensus in Europe that it is in the interest of the whole Western world to work on the fast stabilization of the situation in Iraq, and the creation of a sovereign state, building institutions in the direction of a democratic country," Ogrodzinski says.