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Europe's House Divided

Travelling from Berlin to Riga, Latvia's capital, is an eye-opener, because you get to see much of what is going wrong in European integration nowadays, just months before a further 10 states join the European Union, bringing it up to 25 from the original 6.

In Berlin before I left, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had just welcomed his French and British colleagues for an exchange of views on the state and future of the Union. They were, the chiefs of the three largest members of the EU declared, only advancing proposals; nothing could be further from their minds than to form a steering group to run the affairs of the enlarged Union, even if henceforth they would meet again at more or less regular intervals.

If they really hoped to be believed, they should have listened to my interlocutors in the old city of Riga over the next few days.

The three Baltic countries - Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania - will be among the smallest members when they join the Union on May 1, 2004, their total of 6 million people representing just 1.5% of the then EU's population. Yet in marked contrast to the smaller nations that half a century earlier had joined France, Italy and Germany in launching the Union's fore-runner, the European Economic Community, the new arrivals are digging in their heels, demanding equal rights. Although as small countries they have learnt that the big ones usually get their way, they deeply resented the Berlin meeting because they see in it an attempt to limit their rights in the club they are about to join.