New Zealand and European Enlargement to the East: Milenko Petrovic and Peter Barrer Consider Whether New Zealand Can Improve Its Relations with the Eastern Newcomers to the European Union

By Petrovic, Milenko; Barrer, Peter | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2004 | Go to article overview

New Zealand and European Enlargement to the East: Milenko Petrovic and Peter Barrer Consider Whether New Zealand Can Improve Its Relations with the Eastern Newcomers to the European Union


Petrovic, Milenko, Barrer, Peter, New Zealand International Review


From 1 May 2004 ten new members will enlarge the European Union. Apart from the small Mediterranean states Cyprus and Malta, the other new member states--the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia--are all former communist countries of Eastern Europe. In contrast to the countries of Western Europe, Eastern Europe has for a long time been 'terra incognita'--not only for ordinary New Zealanders but also for the leading politicians, businessmen and cultural representatives of this country. Current economic, trade and cultural relations between New Zealand and the 'eastern newcomers' into the European Union are marginal at best.

While not denying that EU enlargement may pose some threats to New Zealand-EU economic relations, particularly to the traditionally important New Zealand agricultural exports to the EU market, we will concentrate in this article on the opportunities that EU enlargement will provide for New Zealand with the inclusion of 74 million more people into the common European market.

The largest enlargement in the history of the European Union will produce certain socio-political and economic consequences for direct actors as well as globally. While there is little doubt that the general socio-political impacts of enlargement will contribute to the 'extension of the zone of peace, stability and prosperity in Europe' (1) and be positive 'for all', there have been doubts about the positive impacts of EU enlargement on existing economic relations between third countries and the European Union and its current 15 member states. Some of these doubts relating to New Zealand's interests (particularly with regard to the future of its agricultural exports to the European Union) were also recently expressed in the pages of this journal. (2) Yet such doubts hardly seem credible when the potential negative impacts of enlargement are compared with the benefits enlargement can produce for New Zealand's economy.

In this regard it should be noted that recent studies show the potentially negative impacts of the enlargement on New Zealand agricultural exports to the EU market will not be as serious as predicted in some gloomy scenarios. This is primarily because of the high quality of exported New Zealand goods, as well as the commodity composition of New Zealand agricultural exports which do not face much significant natural competition from agricultural production in the eight Eastern European acceding countries to the European Union. (3) However, the major economic benefits from EU enlargement for New Zealand can be achieved by improving its trade, business and tourist relations with acceding states.

Considering the extremely minimal level of current political, economic and cultural ties between New Zealand and this group of countries, there cannot be any doubt that mutual relations will be significantly improved after these countries become members of the largest economic and political integration of the world. The pressing question is to what degree: how much will New Zealand and its people be able to use the opportunity to increase trade, cultural links, tourism, business partnerships and other people-to-people links after the eight former communist countries of Eastern Europe become integral parts of the European Union--an organisation with which New Zealand has already developed very close ties?

Cultural identity

The people of Central and Eastern Europe come from old and distinguished cultures that are an integral part of European cultural identity. The indeterminate location of Eastern Europe--often called 'the lands between' West and East--means that powerful neighbours, particularly Germany and Russia, have had a fundamental impact on the shaping of the political and cultural character of the region. With an historical legacy of turbulent ethnic and religious conflicts, wars and invasions, an enormous variety of peoples have settled in Eastern Europe over centuries, mixing together in a complex patchwork of ethnicity, culture and religion.

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