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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EUROFILE: EU Sacrifices East To Altar Of Self-Interest




Questions from a disillusioned European. President Jacques Chirac of France, why did you tell the Polish parliament two years ago that you supported Poland's entry into the European Union by 2000?


Ladies and gentlemen of the European Commission, why did you say that, even if 2000 was unrealistic, the leading ex-Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe could join the EU by 2002? Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and opposition leader Gerhard Schr?der, why do you portray yourselves as earnest champions of EU enlargement when privately you would be relieved to see the process drag on beyond 2005?


The EU did not start formal accession talks with five ex-Communist countries until last March, more than eight years after the 1989 revolutions. Far from showing enthusiasm for enlargement, the EU is picking fights with prospective new members.


Last month the commission cut by 16 percent Poland's share of the funds available under an EU economic reconstruction program known as PHARE. Ostensibly, the projects proposed by Poland had not been properly prepared in advance.


There was certainly some justice in the commission's complaint. Poland's prime minister, Jerzy Bujek, wasted little time in sacking the official who had drawn up the ill-fated proposals. But the EU should not be acting toward Poland and others like a schoolmaster itching to mete out punishments. The EU should be a friend, an adviser, a guide.


The truth that is slowly dawning on the Central and East European is that few EU governments are genuinely treating enlargement as a top priority. The Mediterranean countries are in no hurry because they know the absorption of relatively poor new member-states would likely mean a smaller slice of the EU's pie for themselves. They also think that expansion into Eastern Europe is something that suits Germany's interests more than those of other EU countries.


That is, indeed, how most German strategists have seen matters over the past eight years. But as Germany's Sept. 27 national election draws closer, the debate has begun to turn in a different direction. Politicians in both Kohl's Christian Democratic Union and Schr?der's Social Democratic Party now suggest that enlargement may be a mixed blessing.


They say that Germany's serious unemployment problem could grow even worse if the country were obliged under EU rules to open its labor market to throngs of East Europeans seeking better money and conditions than those obtaining at home.


If one took Chirac at his word, France would be a major driving force behind prompt enlargement. But French energies have been devoted this year to political battles over who should be the European Central Bank's president and to what extent the bank, which will control monetary policy in the future euro-zone, should heed the advice of national governments and parliaments.


One country, Britain, presents itself as extremely keen on EU expansion eastward. But, as ever, its motives are in question. Even Tony Blair's government is suspected of favoring enlargement as a means of blocking closer EU political integration.


It is all highly frustrating for the would-be EU members. Not for the first time this century, they could be forgiven for asking if the needs of the East are to be sacrificed on the altar of Western self-interest.