Defining the European Union's Eastern Border: Milenko Petrovic Assesses the Importance and Limits of the European Union's Eastern Enlargement for the Success of European Post-Communist (Re)integration

By Petrovic, Milenko | New Zealand International Review, May-June 2010 | Go to article overview

Defining the European Union's Eastern Border: Milenko Petrovic Assesses the Importance and Limits of the European Union's Eastern Enlargement for the Success of European Post-Communist (Re)integration


Petrovic, Milenko, New Zealand International Review


Twenty years after the collapse of east European communism, it is obvious that transition from a communist dictatorship to multi-party democracy and from a command economy to a market economy has had strict limits. Only those ex-communist countries that were able to link their political and socio-economic reforms with association with the European Union and the accession process from the very beginning of their post-communist development have successfully negotiated the process. Many gloomy predictions and expectations were expressed throughout the 1990s, primarily concerning the negative consequences of the deep initial transitional economic crises and a corresponding lack of popular support for reforms throughout post-communist eastern Europe. Nonetheless, eight east central European and Baltic states have succeeded in solidly building and consolidating the function of institutions of multi-party democracy and market economy. While these eight have, therefore, been rewarded with European Union membership as of 1 May 2004, among the other post-communist European states only three 'late transitionists' from south-eastern Europe have shown signs of the ability to follow the same successful post-communist development path. Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the European Union in 2007, and, together with Croatia, an official candidate for EU membership since 2004, they continue speedily to introduce market reforms. Even so, they face some problems in consolidating the institutions of democracy, especially regarding the spread of corruption and the involvement of organised crime in the functioning of government institutions.

By contrast, the remaining countries of the so-called 'Western Balkans', which are all associated with the European Union but which are either still waiting to open accession negotiations (as is the case with Macedonia) or even to get full candidate status--the rest are officially recognised only as 'potential candidates'--have experienced a serious delay in post-communist reform. Furthermore, the non-Baltic post-Soviet states, none of which have ever been seriously considered to have the opportunity to become EU members, have started to reverse their direction of change, especially regarding political (anti-)reform and increased authoritarianism over the last several years.

Such a positive correlation between eastern enlargement of the European Union and success in post-communist reform has also been largely beneficial for the 'old' EU member states and their people. Inviting and allowing their former opponents from the communist east to 'join the club' after completing the required accession criteria, western Europeans have achieved some economic gains, but even more importantly they have extended and secured a 'zone of peace and political stability' further from their borders in the east.

Post-communist reform

The more than 40-year-long communist ideological and institutional 're-building' of east European societies, together with the use of an extremely inefficient non-market mechanism of economic co-ordination, significantly relativised their pre-communist socio-cultural and economic differences. It similarly defined the 'individual (in)capacity' of all east European countries to undergo post-communist political and economic transition. In the aftermath of the collapse of communist party rule during the period 1989-91, all these countries were faced with a lack of local knowledge and, more importantly, a lack of resources for modelling and financing the construction of the necessary institutional frameworks for the introduction and operation of multi-party democracy and market economy.

Two partial exceptions--Yugoslavia and Hungary--had a better knowledge of the institutions and concepts of democracy and market economy because of the early abandonment in them of the centrally-planned economy and their more open relations with Western countries. Nevertheless, these two also relied on very inefficient command-type economic systems that were barely more efficient than any other communist/socialist economy and were, therefore, similarly unable to provide the material base for financing the costs of post-communist reform.

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Defining the European Union's Eastern Border: Milenko Petrovic Assesses the Importance and Limits of the European Union's Eastern Enlargement for the Success of European Post-Communist (Re)integration
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