Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

And Now, EU Expansion

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

And Now, EU Expansion

Article excerpt

NATO expansion was a first step in bringing East-Central Europe into the European fold. Equally vital is integration into the European Union (EU). On July 16 the European Commission discusses which applicants merit accession. It has recommended Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, and Poland to top the list.

Though a decision will be made at December's Luxembourg summit, any new members would not be admitted until at least 2000. For Euroskeptics, the failure of June's discordant Amsterdam summit to finalize questions about voting rules and institutional reforms makes enlargement premature. Others argue that even top-tier East-Central European states still lag in political and market reforms and would strain the EU budget.

Despite such concerns, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, and Poland clearly merit admission. A Freedom House study, "Nations in Transit 1997," which assessed economic and political progress in the 25 nations of East-Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, found that the countries under consideration have made the most dramatic progress in establishing functioning market economies, democratic governance, and civil society, and in improving public administration and competitiveness in a single-market system. They ranked in or near the top five in gross domestic product (GDP) growth and privatization, and had the highest percentage of GDP in private hands.They are in comparatively better shape than Ireland was when admitted in 1973, or Greece in 1981. As to cost, the European Commission estimates that absorbing four or five applicants will not increase the budget ceiling of 1.27 percent of the EU's GDP. Opening the doors to these new democracies will enhance domestic reform and geostrategic stability. Indeed, what made wrenching restructuring palpable to hard-pressed populations weaned on communist paternalism was the promise of eventual integration into Europe's economic and security structures. …

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