Eastern enlargement: What remains of the euphoria?

May 1, 2004 saw the biggest enlargement in the history of the EU: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, as well as Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus joined the bloc and the single market. Although many of the new members have benefited from accession, the prospects for harmonious deeper integration are not very promising at the moment, commentators observe.

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Mérce (HU) /

East and West going their separate ways

Western and Eastern Europe are growing further and further apart, the left-wing philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás writes in Mérce:

“When Viktor Orbán - he of all people! - chooses the worst possible moment to campaign in Subotica for Serbia's EU accession, with thousands of people demonstrating against President Aleksandar Vučić's system on the streets, he is summing it up in a single political gesture: Eastern Europe wants what Western Europe doesn't want. ... Or more precisely: what Western Europe abhors. Namely violence, the end of pluralism, ethnic conflicts, chaos, corruption, a police state and militarism. It can no longer be hushed up: the political rupture is consummate. The only thing still holding the EU together is the interests of German capital.”

Delfi (LV) /

Finally back in the family

Joining the EU is the best thing that could have happened to Latvia, Inese Vaidere, MEP from the Latvian Conservatives, stresses on web portal Delfi:

“I remember the state Latvia was in when we joined the EU. That was just 14 years after we regained our independence, and Latvia was still suffering the consequences of the Soviet occupation. EU accession opened up unique opportunities for Latvia. We returned to the family of countries we belonged to. We received EU funding, we became part of the single market again, we're free to travel and work all over Europe. I often ask myself where Latvia would be without the EU. ... Accession was the best thing that could have happened to us.”

Verslo žinios (LT) /

One look at the statistics says it all

Business paper Verslo žinios lists figures showing that joining the EU was worthwhile:

“Not everything can be measured in numbers. Nevertheless the figures are eloquent regarding Lithuania's advantages from joining the EU. ... In 2004 the per capita GDP, taking account of differences in price levels, was 49 percent of the EU average. By 2017 this indicator rose to 78 percent, and next year it will very likely cross the 80 percent threshold. Foreign direct investment rose by 25 percent to 41 percent of GDP. Total EU funding amounts to roughly 15 billion euros. 15 years ago Lithuania's exports of goods and services accounted for 40 percent of the GDP, whereas last year exports accounted for almost 85 percent of the GDP - one of the highest levels in the EU.”

Népszava (HU) /

Things didn't go fast enough

All sides made mistakes in the course of the EU enlargement process, Népszava contends:

“The West in that it allowed its political fears to get the better of it and was perhaps somewhat hasty in pushing through the accession of the post-Socialist countries. The Hungarian political elite in that its expectations were too high. The people, finally, in that they were expecting the period of adjustment to be short, above all regarding attaining Western standards of living. No one really grasped what a huge democratic deficit, what deep historical wounds, and what nationalistic gangrene Central Eastern Europe carries around with it.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Czechs still have a lot to learn

The Czechs lack political vision, commentator Martin Ehl writes in Hospodářské noviny:

“The majority of Czechs don't have any clear values and only care about what's in their interest at any given time. At the start of the 90s that was open borders, the free market and the development of democracy. Since the world has become more complicated than expected, they've started to look for people who offer simple solutions. ... The Czechs - and not only them - have yet to learn to be part of the political and democratic West. For their own future, for their development, for their freedom. Clearly the last few years have not been enough for this to happen.”

Der Standard (AT) /

A demonstration of geopolitical vision

The EU's decision to take in ten new member states 15 years ago was bold and correct, Der Standard stresses:

“If 2004 had come and gone without anyone showing the courage to press on with enlargement, Europe would have risked remaining divided for a long time to come. Perhaps this would not have led to a new Iron Curtain or violent conflict. But the states of Central Eastern Europe would have continued to play no more than second fiddle in shaping the continent - with the risk of becoming an internally divided buffer zone between East and West. The enlargement of 15 years ago spared us such a scenario.”

15min (LT) /

The West must return borrowed East Europeans

15min would like to see an EU policy that lures migrants from the "new" member states back to their home countries:

“The East Europeans who have tested life in the West could trigger major change in the new member states. ... A major return migration will only happen if the West Europeans understand that the East Europeans, who have contributed so much to the economic recovery of the West, are needed in their home countries now. ... East Europe has many beautiful cities and villages - thanks to the infrastructure developed using EU structural funds. Now the time is coming for the East Europeans who have returned to their home country to use the new roads and pavements. The people in who have a more Western and less post-Soviet mindset.”