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Western Press Review: Reactions To EU Commission Report

Prague, 17 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary today focuses again on events in Strasbourg, where the European Commission yesterday released a 1,300-page report on the proposed eastward expansion of the European Union.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: All States Aim For Union, But Speeds Vary

Brian Coleman examines in an analysis today the commission's recommendation to invite Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus to early membership talks. Coleman writes: "The European Union is starting to look like the Tour de France - with 15 members and 11 candidate countries furiously pedaling in the same direction, but splitting into packs."

Coleman says: "The recommendation is momentous, carrying the promise that Europe may one day put its bitter divisions behind it and emerge as a unified and prosperous entity, following two World Wars that gutted the Continent and ultimately left behind a democratic Western Europe of the haves and a Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe of the have-nots." Coleman concludes that "for now, the momentum is unquestionably leaning toward a broader Europe in which states all aim for the same goal, but travel at different speeds."

FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: Rejected Candidates Still Strive For EU

A news analysis today by Kevin Done examines yesterday's developments from the viewpoint of the Central and Eastern European states that were not recommended for membership talks. Done writes: "The European Commission's efforts to reassure the five rejected East European countries that they were not being left out from expansion plans rang hollow in capitals from Bucharest to Bratislava."

Done quotes Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea extensively, including Ciorbea's view that all applicant states should be invited to the initial talks. Done also notes Ciorbea's vow to "continue a 'political and diplomatic fight right through until December (1997) for the adoption of a political decision on EU expansion' that would overrule the commission's proposal." Done also emphasizes that the commission's recommendation is not binding, and that a final decision on who to invite to the negotiations will be made at a Luxembourg summit of EU leaders in December.

FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: EU Expansion Frought With Challenges

Lionel Barber comments in today's newspaper that the EU is now formally committed to expansion. Barber writes: "Now there is no turning back. With the publication of Agenda 2000, the European Commission's 1,300 page blockbuster on enlargement, the historic process of admitting 10 former Soviet bloc countries in the European Union is finally underway." Summarizing the commission's report, Barber says: "The vision of an ever closer Union is shifting towards the looser confederation of nation-states favored by Britain. The new Europe will have a longer frontier with Russia as well as borders with Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. It will enjoy direct access to the Black Sea and closer contacts with the Caucasus and Central Asia."

Barber describes today's EU as a Union that is "hardly at ease with itself." He says: "More than 18 million people are out of work. Public support for further integration is fragile. Economic and monetary union looks within reach but is still not a done deal. Only last month, EU leaders ducked the very institutional reforms necessary to manage a Union of more than 20 members. . . Constitutional reform, including a streamlined European Commission, a rebalancing of power between small and large member states and more majority voting, is necessary to prevent a paralysis in decision-making."

Barber also finds faults with the commission's comments on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. He says: "The proposed reforms (in agriculture) strike a balance between what the commission considers is politically manageable rather than economically desirable." Barber concludes that "the hottest issue is how long the central and eastern Europeans must wait before they can enjoy the same rights and privileges as the existing members of the club. Agenda 2000 devotes a mere paragraph to the question, declaring that transition periods may be necessary but should be limited in scope and duration."

Barber concludes: "The Commission's working hypothesis is that the first wave of new members will enter the Union in 2002. But this looks optimistic. Spain took seven years to conclude a deal. He says: "Enlargement is also hostage to the EU's internal agenda. The successful launch of EMU is almost certainly a precondition of expansion eastwards in the mind of France, if not Germany."

THE GUARDIAN: Self Interest Motivates EU Enlargement

An editorial in today's edition of the daily London newspaper says that the EU is stuck between a vision for the future and self interests. The Guardian says enlargement would benefit the United Kingdom "because it would bring stability in a part of the world which started two world wars."

The editorial says: "Enlargement is not perhaps such an unequivocal act of charity. True, it is likely to involve a dilution of the EU's collective wealth, expanding the Common market's population from 370 to nearly 500 million, while increasing total GDP by only five percent. But the impulse might be less generous if the existing members did not regard Eastern Europe as a potentially lucrative market. The candidate members will have to face tough entry requirements, freeing their economies in ways which could leave them vulnerable. The benevolence of the EU, like that of the World Trade Organization, operates strictly on its own terms."

The Guardian summarizes the commission's report on countries that were not recommended for early talks. It says: "Bulgaria is reproached for reforming its economy too slowly even though it's on the way to satisfying the EU's political criteria. Slovakia by contrast is not doing at all badly on the economic front, but is ticked off for the democratic defects. Such a condescending approach is not the best way of promoting the spirit of pan-European equality."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Possible Pitfalls Stall EU Expansion

Today's newspaper carries an editorial titled "Growing pains in the EU." The editorial says: "The enlargement of the EU into Eastern Europe is something that everybody (except perhaps the Russians) favors in theory. The potential benefits, prosperity for the East, new markets for the West and enhanced political stability for both, are obvious. But so are the potential pitfalls. That is why, of course, the existing members have taken so long to address the issue. First and foremost, taking in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Slovenia is bound to mean that less money will be available for everyone else."

It says: "Enlarging the EU to more than 20 states would also inevitably dilute the influence of the current members, and particularly the smaller countries, both in the Commission and the Council of Ministers."

The Daily Telegraph editorial concludes: "Last month, at Amsterdam, it proved impossible to make progress on reforming the commission or the reweighting of voting powers in the Council of Ministers. With so many countries plagued by unemployment and recession, agreement on the reduction of subsidies and handouts is likely to prove even more elusive. But without agreement, on both financial and institutional reform, enlargement cannot go ahead."

HANDELSBLATT: Competitive Applicant Economies Crucial To Expansion

Germany's financial daily offers an editorial stressing the criteria that EU applicants must have viable, competitive market economies. The editorial says: "The candidates must be in a position to stand up to the pressures of competition and market forces within the union. And finally they must be ready not only to integrate but also take upon themselves the responsibilities and aims of existing members in their economies and trading. Even those candidates who are being given priority are regarded by the EU as in need of catching up or developing their capital markets. At any rate, the entry process, which is just beginning, is a long term and extremely difficult venture just as it was in previous expansions."

HANDELSBLATT: Future Conflicts Likely, Despite Brussels Optimism

Everhard Wisdorff comments today that "financial considerations always come after politics." Wisdorff says yesterday's formal proposals by the European Commission on EU expansion were "for sure, finalized long ago." He says: "In spite of the optimism in Brussels it does not require much fantasy to foresee substantial conflicts among the present members in the near future."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Germany To Gain Most, But Lose Too Much In Expansion

Today's carries a commentary by Andreas Oldag warning that the future political and economic division of power in Europe will be determined by the events of the coming months. Oldag says: "Germany will profit most from EU expansion. Already Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are German priority investment territories. The volume of trade is growing by double-digit numbers." Oldag warns that the cost of expansion, estimated at 20 billion D-Marks, is too much. He says: "the basic mistake lies again in the EU's failure to have the courage to shrug off the strong lobby interests of those receiving subsidies. The reforms of the agrarian and structural policies described in the Agenda 2000 report do not go beyond well-meaning intentions. At the same time the financial framework calculations are glossed over. The motto is to avoid conflict at all cost. Instead of unpleasant truths being openly admitted, the principle of hopeful thinking prevails."