European Expansion or Putin Expansion?

The question of Europe’s borders has become a staple of debate in the European Union since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. At stake is whether Western values will take root in the post-Soviet east, or whether they will drift into a gray zone from which they will sooner or later challenge the values and democratic ways of “Europe.”

WARSAW – One merit of the Berlin Wall was that it made obvious where Europe ended. But now the question of Europe’s borders has become a staple of debate in the European Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent threat to aim missiles at Ukraine highlights what is at stake in that debate’s outcome.

The Wall’s collapse in 1989 forced European Commission officials to dust off atlases to find places about which they knew little and cared less. Leon Brittan, then a commissioner and supporter of enlargement, recalls that some officials and countries even hoped that the pre-1989 line could be held. They felt that enlargement even to the Scandinavian and Alpine countries was going too far. Only in 1993 did the EU officially recognize that membership for all the former Soviet bloc countries could be a long-term goal.

Today, the debate about Europe’s frontiers is not confined to officials or think tanks. In mid-2005, voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the EU’s draft constitutional treaty, partly motivated by fear that enlargement was going too fast and too far. “We don’t want the Romanians deciding on how we should order our lives,” a Dutch professor complained.

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