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Europe: EU Reaches The Crossroads With Eastward Expansion

Prague, 23 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- British experts say the accession of Central and Eastern European countries to the European Union will have a profound effect on present EU states, as well as on the new members themselves.

The experts were speaking to journalists in Prague ahead of a conference opening Friday (April 24) on the challenges presented by the EU's eastward expansion. The Prague conference is being organized by the British Council, the cultural arm of the British government, and it draws together politicians, academics, economists, artists, bureaucrats and others from 17 countries, east and west.

One of the conference organizers, George Schoepflin, of the University of London, told the journalists that the coming conference is aimed at helping east and west understand each other better, and the changes that are going to result from expanded EU membership.

Says Schoepflin: "I think the one thing I would like to emphasize is the importance of finding a common language of communication between what I will call at this moment West and East. Post-communist patterns of expression are really very different from those of western Europe, and it is extremely difficult quite often for the two actually to understand one another. They appear to be understanding one another but in reality they are talking past one another. Secondly, within the EU particular forms of expression have grown up, particular ways of doing things, a particular corporate consciousness has grown up, which is not necessarily entirely known by the 10 countries which are expecting to join the European Union. This meeting will create the personal contacts which will allow some of these problems to be ironed out."

Another British academic, Howard Machin, the head of the European Institute of the London School of Economics, said that the whole nature of the EU as it is at present will be changed by the expansion.

Says Machin: "This process of accession officially is in terms of accepting the 'acquis communautaire', but in practice it is also about changing the nature of the European Union, more profoundly than at any other accession in its history: by joining the club, the new members change the nature of the club. There is the real sense that in being in Central Europe we are not only geographically at the crossroads of Europe, but also are historically at a very important crossroads of Europe, because Europe is moving forward to a whole new stage which we don't clearly see and is something which we will define together."

Machin, went on to say that EU expansion is really a blessing in disguise for the existing members in that it will force internal reforms which are long overdue. He says the present EU structure was designed for six states, and that it barely functions with the present 15 states, let alone with more soon to be added.

The other expert, Shoepflin, went on to explain what he sees as the profound changes in patterns of thought that EU membership will bring to the people of East and Central Europe.

"We are looking, five, ten years ahead, let's say hypothetically the first wave of countries will have membership by 2003. At that point the citizens of these countries become European citizens. They have entitlements as European citizens, at that point the kinds of civil/social links that we have already seen in the west will become a part of the every day life of these countries.....European integration does not just mean the Czech Republic joining the West, it also means integration also with the Poles, the Hungarians, the Slovenians, the Estonians. It means that the citizens of all these states will have the same rights of living here, of moving, by the same token if Czech citizens want to move to Lisbon, and buy property there that is not a problem... ."

"But you can see what sort of larger problems this will create. You can see that for instance the Prime Minister of any of these countries will be appalled when suddenly he discovers that there is a pressure group with an all-European dimension which suddenly says no, you can't put nuclear waste there, or whatever the case is. You will recall that Greenpeace prevented the dumping of oil platforms in the North Sea -- that was an all-European pressure. That's the kind of politics to which these countries have to look forward... Clearly the stable, settled ways which have evolved in the post-communist world are going to go."

"And once these countries are inside the European Union, inspectors from the EU will come and say excuse me, here is directive such and such, and you don't appear to be adhering to it, and people will say, well... and you see if you don't enforce it you will be fined over a million dollars a day. Europe is a growing concern, and a growing concern means both entitlements and regulations."

"The European Union is increasingly taking over some of the functions which have traditionally been the resort of the state, the regulation, the administration, those sort of activities, are no longer being run from London, Paris or Amsterdam, or whatever, but from Brussels, and that's a big change."