Viewpoints: The European Press on E.U. Enlargement

Poland's Prime Minister cheers his country's entrance to the European Union
Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller gives reporters the thumbs-up after learning the European Union will pay Poland an additional €108 million, Dec. 13, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

London The Observer (liberal weekly), Dec. 15: Europe has been put back together again. Ancient cities that once formed the Hanseatic League are back in the European fold. The heart of the Hapsburg Empire is back. So, with its tragic history, is Poland. Europe is very nearly complete. And yet the pleasure at 74 million Europeans taking their proper place in the European Union is muted.... While we may be building Europe, there is no consensus on what this Europe is, what its borders might be, and what… values underpin it. For some, Europe's destination is no more than a loose commonwealth of states broadly committed to democracy, human rights, and free markets, in which Turkey must be an immediate member. For others… Europe is a more complex construct with deeper roots, which it must self-confidently assert if its potential form of supranational governance and attempt at establishing a common purpose is ever to have legitimacy.
—Will Hutton

Warsaw Gazeta Wyborcza (regional) Dec. 14: We usually try to avoid high drama, but let us say now, with a voice full of emotion and hope: Something very good happened in Poland, our homeland. We are in democratic Europe. Many generations of Poles have tried to crush the walls of totalitarian dictatorships, and now their dreams have come true.
—Adam Michnik

Istanbul Turkish Daily News (liberal), Dec. 16: Turkey may not be able to negotiate efficiently again if it doesn't show a furious reaction when the difference between the expectation and the outcome is this great.... Getting a date for entry talks could be viewed as a success but this is not a final date. The expression about this date in the summit declaration is so vague that it cannot be compared to similar expressions concerning other candidate countries and is far from sounding like a commitment. Even if the commission writes a favorable progress report and proposes to start negotiations, the council retains the powers to decide that we haven't fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria. That is an extremely conditional date.
—Gundu Zaktan

Nicosia The Cyprus Weekly (independent) Dec. 13-18: The people of Cyprus are indeed grateful to the E.U. for sticking to its principles and respect for the rule of law. This was done both in connection with the accession of Cyprus without terms, and, of course, in connection with the rejection of the huge pressure exercised directly by President George Bush himself to include Turkey…. E.U. leaders made it clear to Bush that they are not prepared to violate their own law and insistence on the respect of human rights in order to satisfy his desire to please Turkey. The E.U. stand is a clear message to Turkey that it must mend its ways, including [its relations with] Cyprus…if it wants to be accepted as a member.

Glasgow Sunday Herald (independent), Dec. 15: Surely, no good European should deny that 75 million people from the central and eastern part of the continent, slowly raising their heads from the ashes of communism, deserve to marry into the more prosperous part of the European family, for richer or poorer, till death or a new ideological rift do us part…. The main motivation for the historic enlargement of the E.U., however, is political-or, if you like, humane. The project has been driven from the start by the desire to reunite Europe and make the wars, tension, and ideological friction that marked the entire 20th century less likely in the 21st. This fact, though, may also be the E.U.'s undoing. It may look to the Poles like they've had a long wait to get in, but the reality is that the EU has rushed into enlargement without ever properly addressing the problems it will cause.… In Copenhagen…Tony Blair sidestepped questions about whether Europe was getting "wider" but "shallower," or whether it might ultimately become so big that it is ungovernable. But they are important questions. Politically, it had to be done. We could not keep 75 million Europeans out in the cold. But how we run the shop once they are inside... well, that is a nightmare to come.

Budapest Budapest Business Journal (financial) Dec 16: Has some Christmas sprite out of a Hans Christian Andersen tale been sprinkling magic dust over Copenhagen? Actually, there are more rational explanations. Officials at the summit were keenly aware of the embarrassment and loss of confidence that would result if their talks failed to reach agreement…. The EU has started to need the candidates just as much as they need the E.U. With growth in the euro zone expected to fall to 0.8 percent this year, companies in current E.U. states increasingly need new markets in which to sell products and services that have reached saturation point in the West. So they are keen for the planned enlargement to happen, because it will create a trading bloc of 450 million consumers. Whatever costs expansion might bring, in the form of aid packages and concessions to new members, business leaders have apparently persuaded their politicians that the E.U. can't afford not to expand.

Prague Transitions Online (independent online weekly), Dec. 10 - 16: The ball is now moving from the conference halls of the Euro-elite and into the court of the people of Central and Eastern Europe. It is they who will decide what happens next. And unlike the government officials in Copenhagen last week, the average people of the candidate countries are far from unified in their desire to join the club. While a majority still supports the idea of joining the E.U., that margin is quite slim in some countries. A large number of people in the region are skeptical about the E.U.; many feel they do not know enough about the issue, and others don't care…The Central and Eastern European region has no other choice. The countries of this region do not have Swiss banks or Norwegian oil, and therefore they cannot afford to be left out of what will become the world's largest trading bloc…. The next step, in short, will be just as important as all of the previous ones. The more forcefully and honestly the governments present their cases to the public, the less likely they are to look like they are trying to sneak through a bad deal.

London Financial Times (centrist) Dec. 16 After years of negotiations, the E.U. at last summoned up the courage to open its doors to the east and welcome 10 new states…. Not only is the Union erasing Europe's Cold War barriers; it is also addressing even older divisions between Catholic and Orthodox and between Christian and Muslim…. However, this bright future will come only with hard work, both in candidate states and in the E.U.… Last, political leaders must persuade sometimes skeptical voters to support enlargement in next year's referendums…. The E.U. must also change if it is to remain viable with 25 or more members. The European convention must find ways of making the union more transparent and more efficient.

Belfast Belfast Telegraph (unionist), Dec. 14: By contrast with the existing members of the club, many of the new entrants are poverty-stricken…creating a level playing field will be a huge challenge. The new entrants have little hi-tech industry and too much unskilled labor….From a Northern Ireland perspective; E.U. enlargement is both a threat and an opportunity. The province has already lost its favored…status and the days of substantial European aid are drawing to a close. E.U. investment has made an enormous contribution to our infrastructure and has also helped to underpin the peace process. The tap is not being turned off, but the flow of funding is slowing to a trickle. By the same token, however, E.U. investment in the new entrant countries will open new doors for companies in Northern Ireland. Some may form useful partnerships while others may be able to develop export possibilities…. It is a goal well worth striving for.

Riga The Baltic Times (independent weekly), Dec. 12-18: Not even readers of The Baltic Times are indifferent to the prospects of Turkey acceding to the European Union, perhaps the thorniest issue to confront continental leaders in a generation. In a vitriolic letter to the paper sent via electronic mail, one reader went berserk, claiming Turkish membership in the European Union will erode Western values and eventually ruin the historic club. Many Europeans would agree. The dilemma is crucial, since it recalls age-old, fundamental questions about Europe itself. Where are Europe's boundaries? What is the irreplaceable set of Old World values? … The debate, of course, is taking place on different levels, and as a general rule, the more popular the debate, the more vulgar the arguments. ("They can't be allowed in! They're Muslim!") While many crass judgments filter up and affect official discourse on the subject, E.U. leaders generally discuss the issue with a fair deal of common sense. Still, it is popular opinion that counts, since for the European Union to work it must have the support of the people. Thus it is imperative that leaders, regardless of what happens at the Copenhagen summit, explain their decision and its perspectives to voters…. Skeptics shouldn't forget that Turkey is a member of NATO, and that the Western military alliance didn't undergo a personality change once it accepted a "non-Christian" member. Debate on any country's accession to the European Union should focus on economics and human rights.