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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Euroskeptics or Europhiles?

The expansion of the European Union into the former Eastern bloc is set to begin in just over a year. The signal has been given. The administrative and political machines in Brussels are moving forward on schedule. The expansion has yet to occur, but it has already been heralded as one of the greatest events in the history of the European continent.

Europe has seen its share of major events since the days of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. It is not hard to understand why the Eurocrats in Brussels see themselves as a kind of collective Napoleon or Charlemagne, especially since they plan to unite the peoples of Europe not by force of arms, but with rules and regulations. Yet as the bureaucratic euphoria gathers steam, more and more problems are coming to light that the functionaries in Brussels are fundamentally incapable of solving.

Uniting the continent is a noble goal. But removing customs barriers and creating common rules and administrative bodies does not guarantee that unification will be achieved. If that were the case, the Soviet Union would never have fallen apart.

The Soviet Union was held together by a totalitarian bureaucracy, of course, and the bureaucracy in Brussels is irreproachably democratic. It seems reasonable to expect that demonstrators protesting against the EU will not be beaten down with shovels, as happened in Tbilisi in 1989. But will a democratic process ensure that the new supranational structures it creates will function effectively? And will civil society benefit from the expansion of a united Europe?

Civic groups have already voiced more than a few complaints about the current bureaucracy in Brussels. It hardly seems likely that this situation will improve when the EU apparatus grows once more. The euphoria of the politicians obscures complex processes in society that the machine driving European integration has chosen to ignore.

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Just a few years ago, East European countries took a rosy view of unification with the wealthy nations of the West. In Western countries, especially Germany, on the other hand, people were obviously uneasy about the impending eastward expansion. The cause of these opposite reactions was the same: the expectation that the West would simply open its wallet and start handing money to the East. People in the East looked forward to financial assistance, while those in the West shrank from the prospect of bankrolling new programs. This reaction was especially marked in the former East Germany, where people feared that the funds currently earmarked for the "new lands" in the unified Germany would be sent even farther east.

As 2002 comes to a close, the situation has changed. The number of skeptics in Germany has declined. According to the newspaper Die Welt, roughly half of all Germans now favor expansion. When you consider the total unanimity of the press and the politicians, however, this change does not seem such a big achievement. And while the Germans have got used to the idea of expansion, their neighbors to the east are starting to have doubts. The number of people supporting expansion in the candidate countries is decreasing steadily as the deadline nears.

Estonia stands out among Euroskeptics. Only 35 percent of Estonians support expansion, and that is no surprise. The country could lose significant income from duty-free trade with Finland and Sweden. Estonians worry that their resorts will be snapped up by wealthy foreigners and that prices will shoot through the roof. Concerns are being raised throughout Eastern Europe that citizens of former Soviet bloc countries will become second-class citizens of the EU. If a referendum on joining the EU were held in all the candidate countries, their number could be significantly reduced. But talk of a referendum is heard only in those countries where the government's position enjoys overwhelming popular support, as in Hungary.

The rise of Euroskepticism in the East and of expansion enthusiasts in the West have both resulted from the realization that no one is going to spend the money to raise living standards in former Soviet bloc countries to West European levels. Even in Germany, parity between East and West has not been achieved 12 years after unification.

But money is not everything. More importantly, will expanding the EU strengthen democracy? Or will it prove a milestone in the formation of a bureaucratic machine that, despite its best intentions, will be a long way from a collective Charlemagne?

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.