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 …

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