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Not Everyone Is Rushing to Accept European Union's
By PETER S. GREEN
December 25, 2002 - The New York Times
PRAGUE, Dec. 24 — They returned from the European Union meeting in Copenhagen
this month as their nations' heroes, hailed in newspaper headlines as skilled
diplomats who had successfully negotiated the entry of their 10 Eastern
European and Mediterranean countries into the wealthy 15-member club.
Now the 10 leaders face a task almost as difficult: persuading skeptical
populations to accept that invitation and join the European Union when each
country votes next year in separate referendums on entry.
"So far, in terms of selling it, we are on the defensive," said Pavel
Telicka, the Czechs' chief negotiator in union talks. He was criticized in the
Czech news media for not bringing home enough money from Brussels. But, he
said, "it's not just about money but about other issues that will have to be
Czechs are among the most Euro-skeptic candidates, with only 43 percent of
respondents supporting membership in a recent poll.
In smaller countries like Estonia, with 1.4 million citizens, polls show
many voters fear being swallowed up in a union of almost 450 million.
Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland said: "The most important questions will
be questions of employment, salaries, social care. These kind of things should
be explained by the government as simply as possible."
Pro-union campaigners face an uphill battle with Easterners, who fear they
will simply end up with West European prices on the same old East European
"People are starting to realize that this is going to be very costly for
them, that prices are going to rise, that foreigners will be able to buy
property, which will send home prices higher," said Michael Shafir, a senior
analyst at Radio Free Europe in Prague.
Hungary's rightist opposition leader and former prime minister, Viktor
Orban, plays an openly nationalist card. He recently called the Socialist
government that pushed him from office last summer "Brusselites," the same
way, he said, that the country's longtime Communist rulers were "Muscovites."
"The same people who used to lecture us about Socialist internationalism now
tell us how to be true Europeans," Mr. Orban said.
To which Miklos Haraszti, a prominent political commentator in Budapest,
responds: "Orban, while preaching yes, is doing his best to ruin the people's
appetite for the E.U. He wants to win the next election riding the
difficulties that will predictably come in the first years after accession."
While polls generally show that union supporters can expect at least a
small margin of victory, European Union officials say their main priority is
to get out the vote. "Our fear is a low turnout, which can help the parties
which are populist and anti-European," said Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman
for enlargement for the European Commission.
In Poland, farmers and workers fear that their land and factories will be
bought up cheaply by the neighboring Germans, relegating the Poles forever to
second-class status. While surveys show that 70 percent of Poles will turn out
for the referendum, on June 8, with a 55 percent yes vote, pro-union activists
say their greatest enemy is complacence.
Krzysztof Bobinski, publisher of the pro-union magazine "Unie & Polska,"
said opponents of union entry are highly motivated. "They will turn out and
vote," he said. "The pro campaigners are not very motivated; they just feel
that somehow it is going to happen. If we don't work hard, the referendum will
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