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Expansion and Democracy in Europe

Europe is poised on the rim of two nearly revolutionary undertakings: eastward expansion and the possibility of a draft constitution for the European Union. Both should be treated as inextricably linked. I support EU-enlargement. It is an historical necessity. However, expansion must go hand-in-hand with institutional reforms that improve both the EU's capacity to act and its democratic legitimacy.

Since communism's fall, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe have undergone exhilarating yet wrenching transitions. The biggest danger posed by that rather abrupt and harsh process of transformation is that, in trying to become open, a society risks disintegrating in the effort. This may happen when old structures are swept away, and are not replaced with new ones in a prudent way. Open societies demand reliable institutions, and these cannot be created overnight.

Making that difficult passage from closed to open society was a necessary step for the states of Central and Eastern Europe to become candidate members and - perhaps soon - full members of the EU. Enormous effort was expended by them - something not fully understood by current EU members - to accomplish their domestic transformations and so adapt themselves to the incredibly extensive acquis of the Union.

But the EU still must prove to the countries seeking to join it that the Union is a truly open, democratic society of the type they have struggled to make of themselves. That question has practical implications, for if the EU is to manifest itself as a free and open society it must assure its ability to function both effectively and efficiently when expansion takes place. Here is where the constitutional assembly underway in Brussels can and must link enlargement with reform of the Union, for enlargement must also be used to strengthen the transparency and democratic legitimacy of the EU.