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How United Is "New Europe?"

Seen from the point of view of the European Union's longtime member states, the eight postcommunist countries that - together with Cyprus and Malta - joined the EU on May 1st seem united in their positions on most important issues. Indeed, since the US intervention in Iraq, many West Europeans see the EU's new members from Europe's East as something of a bloc.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's division of Europe into "new" and "old" was, above all, a clever ploy that helped the Bush Administration get its way by using the old strategy of "divide and rule." But, although it reflected real differences between established EU members and the newcomers, it also managed to solidify the false impression that the EU's new members share a similar identity and political agenda. Rumsfeld's remarks were divisive because Western Europe seems to know even less than the Americans about Europe's eastern half.

In reality, big differences exist among the new EU members. Even with regard to Iraq, there was little unity. While some countries ­- say, Poland - strongly supported America's war effort, others tried to balance their support for the US with their "understanding" of the views of Germany and France. Still others - for example, Slovenia - stood on the side of "old Europe."

Beyond politics, there are vast differences among the economies of the new members, not only in terms of wealth, but also in their structures. Industrialized and urbanized countries, with relatively small agricultural sectors, such as the Czech Republic, Slovenia, or Slovakia, have different concerns than Poland, where farmers form 20% of the population.