Germany's internal debate on expansion of the European Union has taken a new turn, with opposing statements by two senior members of opposition parties. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston reports from Munich.
Munich, 18 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Former German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe believes that five Central European and Baltic states could meet the criteria for joining the European Union by the end of 2002.
Ruehe expressed the view in an article published over the weekend in a leading newspaper -- the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, also known as the FAZ -- and reiterated it in television interviews. He said he believed that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Hungary would meet all EU entry requirements within 28 months. If so, they would be allowed to join the union by early 2004 at the latest.
Ruehe's views are considered important because he is a senior leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, once led by former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Many CDU members believe he might be a candidate for chancellor in the next federal election in two years.
A very different view of EU expansion, however, was expressed by Edmund Stoiber, who leads the Christian Social Union, which is the Bavarian sister-party of the federal CDU. In a statement Saturday (Sept 16), Stoiber noted that many Germans are concerned about the possible economic effects of expansion. He said that enlargement should not take place "against the will of the people."
Stoiber said he welcomed the controversial suggestion by EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, who earlier this month suggested that there should be a German referendum on the expansion of the EU.
Verheugen later denied that he wanted to delay the entry of the Central and East European states. He said his statement was a call for the EU to encourage public debate on its activities.
In an editorial today, the FAZ said that a referendum on eastward enlargement could be dangerous. The paper said: "Anyone -- such as Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber -- who thinks a referendum is useful is playing with the fire of euro-skepticism. That could have disastrous consequences for Europe and for Germany."
The FAZ said that some danger signals were already visible. On the one hand, it said, it was clear that not all EU members were enthusiastic about the prospect of enlargement. On the other, it was clear that enthusiasm was also waning among some potential new members.
"It is precisely because of waning enthusiasm in Poland that the enlargement process is ailing," the editorial said. The newspaper argued that this was one of the reasons why no concrete dates for enlargement had been set and that the talk was merely of a large-scale admission of members in 2005 or later.
Some German media said today that much of the controversy surrounding EU enlargement centers on the cost of allowing so many poorer countries into the prosperous EU. The media's comments were prompted by a memorandum circulating in the German Foreign Ministry, which estimates the cost of EU eastward expansion at around $68 billion by 2006.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed to RFE/RL today that the memorandum exists, saying it is based on current cost estimates. Most of the $68 billion would be made up of sums the new member countries would receive after their entry into the EU. The remainder is the cost of integration assistance.
But the Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the memorandum stresses the necessity of enlarging the EU. He also emphasized that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is an ardent supporter of bringing the Central and East European states into the EU.