Bad news for Eastern Europe

The Finance Ministers of the European Union countries assumed a new position in their meeting in Sweden yesterday – that the 12 countries from Eastern Europe which intend to integrate the EU in 2003/4 may, after all, not be allowed to enter. It was stated that all the prerequisites had to be fulfilled before these countries could be considered for full entry, meaning that extremely sensitive dossiers such as agricultural production, competitiveness of production facilities and regional cohesion issues must be addressed in full before adhesion will be allowed. The thorny issues of a budget deficit less than 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a public debt less than 60% of GDP and inflation under 1.9% are those most difficult to obtain in fledgling market economies in an aggressive and intrusive environment. Of the twelve countries applying for adhesion in the next phase (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Malta, Cyprus, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania), only Cyprus and Malta are able to close all the dossiers regarding integration. The insistence by the European Union finance ministers that all the conditions are satisfied before full entry to the EU is allowed, means that probably the originally stipulated date of 2003/4 will have to be rescheduled. The German Finance Minister, Hans Eichel, spoke ominously in terms of “consequences which may affect the calendar”. The 15 EU finance ministers denied that the desire to delay the adhesion process was due to political desires to humiliate the ex-allies of the Soviet Block. “Politically, it is a great process but it must also become economically viable”, said Laurent Fabius, the French Finance Minister. The East/West divide in Europe makes less and less sense in the social and political context of the world today. With the aggressive and intrusive policy of the USA clouding Europe’s (and the rest of the world’s) horizons, it is time for a flexible attitude, in which the wealthier countries help the poorer ones to nurture their economies in such a way as to guarantee jobs for the workforce, while at the same time taking advantage of the excellence of the eastern European educational systems before the social and economic revolution of 1989 took place.


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