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After the EU summit
And now let's have another look at the road map
Dec 19th 2002 | BRUSSELS The Economist
The enlargement agreed at Copenhagen leaves plenty still to be done
AT EIGHT in the evening on December 13th, the doors of the European Union
swung open. The leaders of ten countries eager to join were ushered in to meet
those of the 15 current members. Their applications had been approved.
Champagne and speeches flowed. Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
proclaimed (in English and French) that “justice has been done.” Peter
Medgyessy, from Hungary, averred that for his country “history begins again
today, after an interruption of 60 years.”
Then came an awkward moment. The leaders of three candidates not yet accepted,
Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, were allowed to join the throng. Abdullah Gul,
Turkey's prime minister, did not disguise his bitterness. Turkey had been told
that the earliest it might even start negotiating was the end of 2004, and
then only if a demanding series of political reforms had been put in place.
“Far from satisfactory,” he said, though it would not deflect Turkey from its
determination to join.
But the Copenhagen summit was indeed historic. What began as a club of six
West European countries, linked by the horrors of a recent war, is due soon to
number 25, up to—indeed, with the Baltic states, into—the edges of the former
Soviet Union. The accession treaties must still be ratified. Nine of the ten
would-be members will put them to referendums next year. Hungary is expected
to go first, on April 12th. Current polls put approval there around 75%, and
EU officials hope this will create momentum in places such as Estonia, where a
recent poll recorded just 39% (albeit with only 31% against). Votes in Malta
and Latvia too may be close.
The most eagerly awaited vote will be in Poland, with 39m of the hoped-for 75m
new EU citizens. The last stages of the Polish accession negotiations were
bitter, and its anti-EU voices are strong. Still, current polls show clear
If all goes well, the new members will join on May 1st, 2004. There will
then be three key issues: their economic development; their impact, as members,
on the EU; and the EU's handling of those countries still banging on its door,
in particular Turkey.
Central Europe's economies are mainly doing well. All are growing faster than
the EU average: by 5% in free-market Estonia last year. Free trade with the EU,
except in farm products, is already in force. Taken together, Czech and
Hungarian exports have almost trebled since 1993, over 60% going to EU buyers.
Especially to these two, foreign investment is pouring in. Poland is a
worrying exception; its GDP is barely rising and unemployment is near 20%.
All the candidates hope that actual membership will give a further boost. But
they also worry about the costs of EU social and environmental rules, and
wonder how their farmers will cope with competition from more-subsidised West
European producers. Still, well-educated and low-paid labour should help all
these countries to go on doing better than their new partners—as they must, if
EU enlargement is to fulfil its central promise of closing the gap in living
In Brussels the main concern is about the impact of the newcomers on the Union.
Some are logistical: how long will EU meetings go on, if 25 countries have to
say their piece; can the translation system cope? Officials are already
dreading the negotiations over the next EU budget, as the newcomers struggle
to improve what many see as the rotten financial deals of their entry terms,
while current members fight to hold on to the loot.
As for policies, for “budget” read, notably, farm policy as such, a big issue
for the newcomers; and, no less, the sundry EU efforts to help poor members
catch up with rich ones. The newcomers will also affect the EU's fledgling
foreign policy. They are likely to be more pro-American than some current
members. George Bush recently got loud cheers when he gave a speech outdoors
in Lithuania; he could barely risk such an event in parts of Western Europe.
The biggest foreign-policy issue for the new EU will be how to deal with the
queue of further applicants. Six months after the new members join, the EU of
25 will be called upon to judge whether Turkey is fit to begin negotiations.
Cyprus could prove troublesome. Hopes that talks in Copenhagen outside the
summit could lead toward a deal to reunite the island came to little, but
Cyprus was accepted anyway. Might its (Greek-Cypriot) government try to block
Turkey's entry, as the Turks fear? Meanwhile, Romania and Bulgaria are already
at the door, and others will surely come. The historic enlargement agreed at
Copenhagen will not be the last.
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