Prague, June 19 (RFE/RL) -- The opening today in the northern Portuguese town of Feira of the European Union's regular semi-annual summit provides the occasion for a round of Western press commentary on the EU's planned expansion to the east. Analysts examine the problems involved in the union's hoped-for accord on basic internal reforms by the end of the year -- seen as indispensable for a smooth, timely enlargement. They also assess the increasingly open impatience with EU accession delays in Eastern candidate countries.
Wall Street Journal:
In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal Europe asks bluntly: "Just what is it that bothers many EU leaders about the East Europeans? The fact that they're numerous, or relatively poorer, or that they're Slavs or that many of them are Orthodox rather than Catholic or Protestant? Not to put too fine a point on it," the paper says, "what rankles some in a few Western capitals is that after decades of communism, the East Europeans may not be in a mood to hand back to government economic control over their lives."
"Similarly," the editorial goes on, "after Soviet captivity, the crowd east of the Oder River may not be ecstatic about setting up an EU military institution that could weaken NATO. Many of the East Europeans, in other words, may be more free-market oriented and more Atlanticist than the present German or French government. They may vote accordingly."
That's why, the paper argues, "the EU leaders meeting at Feira and setting the agenda for the next six months need to understand why doing away with the national veto is such a bad idea. It throws fuel on the fire of legitimate 'sovereigntists' who argue -- quite rightly at times -- that the EU has already usurped too many national and local prerogatives." But the paper notes that the Eastern "newcomers -- Czechs, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians and others -- will arrive in the EU with a very different perspective."
In a commentary for Britain's Financial Times, Quentin Peel says that the 10 Eastern candidate nations are not likely to get a promise of a deadline for enlargement from the EU summit at Feira. Instead, he says, "they will probably hear more warm words about EU commitment to be 'ready for enlargement' by the end of 2002. But that is as far as it will go."
"Nevertheless," Peel continues, the prospect of enlargement is beginning to hang over every aspect of life within the institutions of the EU. It looms behind the main issues on the agenda at Feira, including big debates on progress towards internal reform, new voting procedures, and a charter of human rights. It complicates efforts to draft a new European security and defense policy."
But, the commentary says, "the EU heads of government are also acutely aware that enlargement is an issue on which most of their electors are lukewarm, if not actually hostile. That is why some of them, led by France, are urging caution." As for the applicant states themselves, Peel adds: "Their only concern is that they should not be classified as second-class members. They intend to join as much as they can from the start, including the euro. All the debate and worry is inside the EU."
International Herald Tribune:
A news analysis by Peter Green in the International Herald Tribune says that the candidate states are exasperated and are insisting on a firm entry date. "Diplomatic niceties," he notes, "are being cast aside as the increasingly impatient Central and East European candidates for EU membership tell the union it must stop dithering both on its internal reform efforts and on setting a timetable for letting them join the exclusive club."
According to Green, that "message was repeated Friday 18 June in Prague, when Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine of France was told by Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan that the Czechs expected the union to complete its internal reforms on schedule, and expected France's proposed schedule for enlargement talks to include 'a date by which we enter the European Union.'"
Green's analysis continues: "The candidates have seized on 2002 and made it their own deadline. They fear that despite enormous progress in often unpopular efforts to transform their countries from Soviet satellites into European capitalist democracies, the EU will drag its feet on internal reform to put off the difficult process of welcoming in more than 60 million additional people." And he points out: "Eastern officials say they need the incentive of a clear date for EU entry to win over workers, bureaucrats and businessmen for the difficult reforms needed to leave behind the stagnation and poverty inherited from communism."
In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende addresses the difficulties the outgoing Portuguese presidency has had in promoting the idea that EU members should be able to move toward further integration at different speeds. The paper says in an editorial that Lisbon has proposed that -- with the coming enlargement eastward -- "the EU should form a core of fast-track nations for developing defense, asylum and other common policies, while other member-states should be allowed to proceed at their own slower speed."
"Portugal,' the editorial notes, "even proposed that the two-track idea be discussed at the EU Feira summit and be included in a planned new EU treaty. But," it adds, "many of the fast-track countries fear that their development may be hindered by a single veto. And their fears seem to be increasing."
Portugal, the editorial notes, "proposed that votes of only a third of all member states should suffice to make it possible for some states to go ahead with various federalist initiatives in the areas of defense and foreign policy as well as on some internal policies. Opposition to the proposal, has been substantial," the paper concedes. But it concludes: "It is indeed the right of some members to be more skeptical than others. But they should not be given the opportunity to hold back those who want to push ahead faster."
The Irish Times says: "The Feira agenda is mainly concerned with work in progress to prepare for enlargement of the union, which could see it almost double in size over the next 10 to 15 years. Reforming decision-making and representation and developing new security structures dominate that agenda," its editorial goes on. "But since most of those issues will be decided under the forthcoming French EU presidency, it looks as if several others -- such as whether the bilateral sanctions against Austria should continue -- will receive equal attention."
The paper also says: "This summit is expected to agree that the EU's Inter-Governmental Conference on internal reforms, should consider whether to relax the rules applying to enhanced cooperation or flexibility, which allows groups of member-states to participate in projects that a minority does not want to take part in." The summit, it goes on, "will also consider reports on progress in drawing up a charter of fundamental rights and on the new EU rapid-reaction force capability. Decisions on whether these require legal expression in the EU treaties will be made over coming months, universally expected to culminate in a new treaty of Nice next December."
The editorial also says that the IGC is intended to achieve what it describes as "a coherent and effective EU, governed according to laws with a continental reach." That, it believes, "is profoundly in the interest of Ireland and other smaller EU members." Still, the paper notes, "there are valid fears in Ireland and elsewhere that smaller states could lose out if the balance among EU institutions is altered by marginalizing the European Commission or transferring decision-making substantially back to governments."
Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace:
A signed editorial in the French provincial daily Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace urges that the Feira summit end the EU's sanctions against Austria. Jean-Claude Kiefer writes: "Among the multiple problems up for discussion at the summit, only one needs to be solved urgently and at all costs -- that posed by Austria to the 14 other member-states."
For Kiefer, the chief question is: "Will the EU continue its symbolic sanctions -- totally ineffective, but nonetheless quite vexing to Austria -- because the country's new chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel has put together a coalition that includes the party of Joerg Haider, with its stench of xenophobia and racism? If the answer is yes," he says, "then the EU must follow its own logic and expel Austria. If the answer is no," he continues, "then the union must accept the logic that by including Haider's Freedom Party in his government, Scheussel is succeeding in reducing the influence of the far-right group."
Resolving the dispute over Austria, the editorial says, is essential to a smooth EU enlargement: "There can be no easy expansion to the East, "Kiefer argues, "without the EU cleaning its own house first. That's why," he concludes, the "Austrian problem -- above and beyond all moral considerations -- really conceals an institutional trap. Without a compromise at the Feira summit, the coming French presidency will remain thoroughly polluted by the 'Austrian affair.'"
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report)