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Let the East Europeans In!

Revolution in Russia, civil war in Yugoslavia, the agonies of postcommunism in Central Europe—and the European Community plods along to its intergovernmental conferences, as if nothing had happened.

In 1832 Metternich wrote: there is only one serious problem in Europe today, and that is revolution. One could say there is only one serious matter for Europe today, and that is democracy. The crowds that risked their lives to defeat the coup in Moscow and St. Petersburg were no less brave, and yearned no less for freedom, than those on the streets of Prague and Leipzig in 1989. Yet though we should do our utmost to promote democracy in the new Russia, this should not obscure the more immediate and manageable challenge of Central Europe.

The fledgling democracies of Czechoslovakia. Poland, and Hungary have not only defined their overall goal as “the return to Europe.” They have now also said with unmistakable clarity that “Europe” means first and foremost the European Community.

This is a challenge the EC cannot refuse, if it is to live up to the ideals of its founders. The minimum strategic goal of the leaders of the twelve members of the EC after “1992” should be to enable Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia to become full members of the EC, along with European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states such as Austria and Sweden, by the year 2000.

Historically and culturally, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia belong to Europe. A Europe which contains Crete but not Bohemia, Lisbon but not Warsaw, is historical nonsense.

These countries have won freedom, but they have not yet secured stable democracy. The construction, stability, and health of their democracies depend crucially on the perspective of joining the Community. Every argument that was made for opening the EC to the then new democracies, Greece, Spain, and Portugal, can be made a fortiori for Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.

In 1989 the dominoes fell in the direction of democracy. But could they not fall again another way? Although the coup has failed in Moscow, the situation in the former Soviet Union remains highly volatile and potentially threatening. Protected from external threats by NATO, the European Community has overcome deep-rooted conflicts and moderated historic rivalries between nations of Western Europe. East Central Europe has urgent need of both protection from external threat and moderation of internal conflict. Enhancing their security will also enhance ours.

Yet where would this leave the rest of post-Communist Europe? Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, and Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, to name but a few, all also want to “return to Europe.” And by “Europe” they, too, mean first and foremost the EC.

The first, pragmatic answer must be that the EC simply cannot do everything at once. It makes plain, practical sense to start with those that are nearest, and work out to those which are farthest. Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia are nearest not only geographically, historically, and culturally, but also in the progress they have already made on the road to democracy, the rule of law, and a market economy.

To give priority to these three countries is also realistic when we consider the available resources of the present EC. Of the aid coordinated by the EC from the Group of 24 developed countries, Germany at present provides roughly a third of the total to East Central and South East Europe, and more than half that to the Soviet Union. Since the Federal Republic now has a budget deficit proportionately larger than that of the United States, Germany cannot be expected to do much more over the next five years. Other EC members, notably France, Britain, and Italy, should do more. EFTA countries can help significantly at the margins. But to be realistic, the resources all our pampered consumer democracies are prepared to produce will, alas, scarcely suffice to lift up even these three countries of post-Communist Europe over the next ten years.

Would not a priority for Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia be understood by the others as discrimination against them? Would it not provoke a reaction, against Europe, against the West, threatening democracy in the Balkans or the Baltics even as it strengthened democracy in East Central Europe? This is a serious concern. But the politics of inclusion are not necessarily the politics of exclusion. The contrary has been the case in the history of the EC. Including new members has always strengthened the case for including still more new members.

One might add that the most important thing that Western Europe did for Eastern Europe over the last forty years was simply to show what liberal democracy can produce in prosperity, individual liberty, social welfare provision, and quality of life. Was not this the “magnet” which attracted the peoples of East Central Europe more and more to the European West? If Western Europe was a magnet for East Central Europe, could not a democratic, prosperous, stable, secure East Central Europe become a magnet for South East Europe, for the Baltic states, the Ukraine, and, yes, for the European parts of Russia?

To ask the question—a question as old as Europe itself—“Where does Europe end?” is, in this context, not merely premature but actually counterproductive. Baltic and Balkan democracies will certainly have a strong claim to belong within the Community. If all goes well, they too should move in time via association to full membership. An application from a truly democratic Russia for membership in the EC would pose a serious dilemma, if only because Russia is so big, and half in Asia. But even on the most optimistic view of Russian developments, that delicious dilemma is not one we are likely to face for a few years yet.

If this basic strategic argument is accepted, the leaders of the EC should agree at the Maastricht summit in December on the strategic goal of bringing Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, as well as the much less difficult EFTA hopefuls, into the EC by the year 2000. They should agree not just that the new democracies want it, which is obvious, but that we want it, so that Europe will be Europe.

A number of practical steps could follow from, and give substance to, this strategic resolution:

—As early as 1992 representatives of Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia could be brought into the regular circuit of European Political Cooperation (EPC), which tries to coordinate the foreign polices of EC member states. This need not just be a one-way favor, for the very uncertain foreign policy course steered by the EC over the last year suggests that we could benefit from the East Central Europeans’ special experience in relations with whatever becomes of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Provision for their participation in European Political Cooperation could be written into the Association Agreements currently being negotiated.

—Plans should be made for Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia to participate in the elections to the European Parliament in 1994. Although the exact status of their Euro-MPs would clearly have to be worked out, this would be a powerful symbol, next to membership in the Council of Europe, of the return to democratic Europe. This could also be treated as a “trial run” for full participation in the 1999 European elections.

—Following the suggestion originally made by the Czechoslovak foreign minister, Jirí Dienstbier, some of the aid to Russia and other post-Soviet republics should be made in a form which both enables and obliges them to spend it in East Central Europe. The already immense difficulties of the transition to a market economy in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia have been greatly aggravated by the collapse of their eastern trade.

—For all the fine words, the hard commercial reality at the moment is that Polish markets are more open to goods from the EC than EC markets are to Polish goods. This protectionist discrimination has brought the Community’s talks with Poland to a virtual breakdown, and stalled those with Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The EC should immediately make more generous terms in such vital areas as textiles and agricultural products, thus allowing the negotiations on the Association Agreements to be brought to a rapid conclusion.

—The next stage after association is full membership. Yet even if Central Europe is given a clear priority, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, unlike the EFTA countries, will not have economies ready to bear the full brunt of EC membership in 2000. The sudden blast of competition from vastly more powerful economies could destroy much of their fledgling private industries. Cheap skilled labor is one of their few major competitive advantages and neither an overregulated “social policy” nor even a full and immediate opening of West European labor markets would necessarily be to their own benefit. One therefore needs, as for Greece, Spain, and Portugal, full political membership combined with long economic transition periods. This is not a “multi-speed” or “variable geometry” Europe. It is a unique response to a unique problem.

—All proposals for a deepening of the present EC of twelve through closer integration must be workable by extension in a community of twenty. In the past, a widening of the Community has initially slowed down the process of deepening, but in the medium term it has encouraged it. For the larger the number of members, the greater the need for majority voting, upward and downward delegation of powers, and increased democratic control. Widening can help in deepening. The new members will also be the most enthusiastic about European unification. We in the West may have Europe, but they believe in it.

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