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The Commercial Case for EU Solidarity

In the 15 years since the European Union expanded eastward, cultural, political, and historical divisions between East and West have continued to stand in the way of genuine solidarity. But the continent's integrated industrial ecosystems – the value of which even staunch nationalists cannot ignore – still gives reason for hope.

BERLIN – The European Union’s great eastward expansion in 2004 was a moment for hope and optimism. After 15 years, however, Eastern and Western Europe are culturally and politically divided as ever.

Though the Eastern European countries have enjoyed greater prosperity since joining the EU, they are falling ever further behind their Western counterparts in normative and material terms. They have experienced mass emigration, particularly among young people. And while remittances from those working in Western Europe have contributed to rising living standards in the region, depopulation has generated its own problems.

Today’s East-West rift was foreseeable. When EU member states began discussing an eastward expansion in earnest – first at a 1997 summit in Amsterdam, and then at a follow-up meeting in Nice in 2000 – they found it extremely difficult to get their heads around the idea. Specifically, many delegates seemed to be in denial about the need to adjust common institutions and increase financial transfers to integrate new members and maintain cohesion within the bloc.

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