Slouching Towards Europe

When communism in Eastern Europe collapsed, the region's new democratic leaders agreed that joining the European Union--fast--must be their priority. ``Back to Europe!'' became the slogan, one enthusiastically backed by a majority of their populations. Yet eight months before that dream formally comes true, doubts in Eastern Europe about the benefits of EU membership are mounting. What has gone wrong?

For the new democracies in Europe's east, EU membership has five basic dimensions: historical symbolism, security, economic prosperity, political stability, and a guarantee of the rule of law. Each dimension has dominated at different times over the last fourteen years; attached to each are different expectations in Eastern and Western Europe.

The historical symbolism of the EU has always been more strongly felt in the East than in Western Europe. While Eastern Europe's peoples perceived membership as confirmation of their historical affiliation with the West and as another step away from Soviet rule, the EU seemed in no hurry to meet those expectations.

Instead, the EU emphasized the technical criteria of membership. West Europeans did not seem concerned that early enlargement eastward might speed the consolidation of the region's democratic revolutions. Reduced to a highly technical and bureaucratic process, enlargement became almost totally devoid of any moral and political ethos.