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EU: Union Says Eastern States Not Yet Ready To Join

Prague, 17 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - A study rating the qualifications of Central and Eastern European countries for entry into the European Union (EU) says that "none of these states fully meets the necessary economic and legal requirements for EU membership."

The study was sponsored by Germany's Bertelsmann Foundation and was authored by 23 Western economists. It was made public yesterday at a news conference in Prague.

The study looks at Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. All these countries have applied for EU membership.

One of the authors, German economist Cornelius Ochmann, said the report is a "politically independent attempt at naming the problems facing prospective EU members."

Another German economist, Josef Janning, said that the most significant problems are in the Eastern countries� ability to achieve the necessary compatibility with the EU in economic regulations and in rules protecting minority rights. Janning said the EU is insisting that a country resolves all issues related to minority rights prior to joining the EU.

The study notes that EU expansion will take place only after the European Union reforms itself. Consequently, the authors say, new members "will certainly n-o-t be admitted before the year 2000." Initial negotiations on membership are expected to begin at the end of this year and early next year.

The study is based on what the authors call an "integration capability checklist", in which six specific areas are analyzed. These are democratic development, which includes political stability and basic institutions to deal with political conflicts; compatibility of legal systems with the EU standards; foreign and security policy; economic reforms; social relations concerned with potential ethnic and other conflicts as well as attitudes toward the EU and NATO and perceptions and national identity; and possible problems that could be prompted by association with the EU.

The study says that although democratic institutions of government seem to have been established everywhere, major problems remain in actual political processes. The authors give an example of Bulgaria, where they say, "the struggle for power between the president and the prime minister has paralyzed decision-making processes." They also note that "in Slovakia, political life is still overshadowed by the conflict between the Slovak president and the Prime Minister. �And they say that last year's parliamentary election results in the Czech Republic show that economic successes by themselves can n-o-t guarantee electoral victories.

The authors note a lack of understanding throughout the region of the importance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which, they say, are still largely viewed merely as consumers of social funds and as lobbies. They say that the principle that a civic society is rooted in social non-governmental organizations is n-o-t yet fully appreciated.

The study warns that the Central and East European countries still tend to underestimate the importance of making their legal system compatible with that of the EU, and its says that a process of adjustment can take several years to complete. It says that about 40,000 economic regulations must be introduced and enacted in order to make integration into the EU's internal market.

In foreign and security policy, the study says, "there is no clear concept of the future role of the Central and East European governments within the EU." In particular, the study says, most of these government are not prepared to transfer sovereignty to the union as required by EU integration.

Turning to economic reforms, the study says that Poland and Slovenia became the first countries in the region to surpass in 1996 the gross domestic product (GDP) levels of 1989.

The study notes that Bulgaria is the only country unable to stabilize its currency. With an inflation rate last year of over 60 percent, Bulgaria has the highest inflation rate of in the region.

Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are said to have made the most progress in privatizing their economies, with more than 60 percent of their GDP produced in the private sector. In contrast, Bulgaria and Romania are lagging behind in developing the private sector.

But Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria still have high or increasing foreign debts, while Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are only slightly indebted.

With regard to societal and living standards, the study says that "in all countries in the region, poverty and uncertain living conditions have become a part of daily life." It says that the public considers crime, impoverishment and unemployment to be the most important problems.