EC Girds Itself for Inevitable Expansion the Debate within the European Community No Longer Turns on Whether to 'Deepen' or 'Widen.' Now Members Look for Ways to Do Both at Once as 20 Countries Seek Entry - Last in a Four-Part Series

By Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor. writer Francine S. Kiefer contributed to this report from Bonn. Monitor. | The Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 1991 | Go to article overview

EC Girds Itself for Inevitable Expansion the Debate within the European Community No Longer Turns on Whether to 'Deepen' or 'Widen.' Now Members Look for Ways to Do Both at Once as 20 Countries Seek Entry - Last in a Four-Part Series


Howard LaFranchi, writer of The Christian Science Monitor. writer Francine S. Kiefer contributed to this report from Bonn. Monitor., The Christian Science Monitor


AT a recent demonstration in Minsk supporting democracy and closer ties with the West, marchers mixed flags of their native Byelorussia with the flag of the European Community.

Byelorussia is not a likely candidate for EC membership, especially if plans succeed for a "Euro-Asian" commonwealth replacing the Soviet Union. But the sprouting of the EC symbol at a domestic demonstration as far away as Minsk demonstrates just how attractive the EC has become to its neighbors.

With nearly 20 European countries either already applying for membership or making loud noises about joining, the issue of the Community's enlargement from its current membership of 12 is set to dominate the EC's agenda throughout the 1990s. Deeper vs. wider

The old debate over whether to "deepen" the Community's institutions before "widening" them to include new members has been surpassed by events.

Now as EC leaders debate everything from budgets, immigration, regional development, and trade, to further reforms of Community institutions, it will be done against a backdrop of an expanding and increasingly diverse union.

Steps taken at the EC's recent landmark summit in Maastricht, Netherlands, "settle the deepening and widening debate, because we will now do both of those things" at the same time, said British Prime Minister John Major at the summit's close.

Community integration in "1992 will begin a long debate on the enlargement the transformation - of the Community," says Philippe Moreau-Defarges, a European specialist with the French Institute for International Studies in Paris.

The Maastricht meeting fixed 1999 as the latest date for creating a single European currency, and took some important steps, including laying the foundation of a future EC common defense, reinforcing the Community's political integration. But it also moved up the date for beginning membership negotiations with Austria and Sweden from 1993 to the second half of next year.

More importantly, leaders set 1996 as the date for the next EC treaty revision, which most observers believe will be dominated by the institutional reforms the Community's expansion will require.

Some officials, notably among the Germans, do not think that revision will come soon enough. Issues such as unanimous versus majority voting, already controversial among the EC's 12 members, will become more problematic and central to the organization's effectiveness when new members arrive.

"The whole {enlargement} process is going to have some unpopular effects," says one German official.

Reasons for the push to join the Community vary. For the wealthy countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), whose economies are well integrated into the EC's, membership is a way to gain a say in policies that already affect them profoundly.

The poor, newly democratic countries of Eastern Europe see membership as the best path to prosperity and solid democratic institutions. They look to the astounding progress of countries like Spain and Portugal, EC members for less than six years, as their guide.

A possible calendar might go something like this: Sweden and Austria will be members by 1995, if not before. Finland is to decide during the first six months of next year whether to apply, but some leaders are calling for an acceleration to "catch up" with Sweden and Austria. An ambivalent Norway would probably be pushed to join if Finland does.

Switzerland is leaning toward "eventual" membership, although some Swiss leaders are calling for a referendum next year to speed up the process.

Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, which just last week signed economic association agreements with the EC, should be members by the end of the decade or early in the next century. Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states are likely to follow closely, as are some or all of the Yugoslav republics and Albania.

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