New and True Europeans

The fiasco of the European Union’s summit in Brussels has brought into sharp relief differences in attitudes between most new member countries from East Central Europe and the “old” members. Perhaps surprisingly for many, such differences were not played out according to the expected script, in which the new members would be ruthlessly pragmatic, and demanding as much EU money as they could get, while most Western countries would in the end tone down their national egoism in favor of the decades-old ideals of European integration.

In the end, it was the EU’s eastern flank—the supposedly money-hungry and immature democracies—that called most loudly for a compromise in the name of salvaging political integration, while most of the old European democracies ruthlessly fought for their own “national interests.” In view of some big countries’ intense national egoism, the failure to agree on the EU’s 2007-2013 budget could have ominous political consequences for Europe.

Statements by new EU members’ leaders at the summit indicated that they were aware of such a possibility. They were worried about the EU’s future—certainly more so than their Western counterparts. Some warned that the rejection of the European Constitution in the French and the Dutch referendums, combined with the summit’s decision effectively to suspend the ratification process and its failure to agree on EU finances, could trigger a serious political crisis in the EU.

This is why most new members were ultimately willing to support Luxembourg’s proposed compromise, under which the budget would be only 1.06% of the EU’s overall GDP and Great Britain’s annual rebate would be frozen at €4.6 billion. Indeed, just before the ultimate collapse of the talks, five new members, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, agreed to an even more radical plan, under which the budget would be only 1% of the EU’s GDP.