Vol 1, No 5, 26 July 1999
T H E I S S U E (#5):
The enlargement of the European Union is our theme this week in Central Europe Review, and after reading through the articles, I am struck by one underlying motif, common to all of them. In each country described by our contributors - Estonia, Macedonia and Romania - there seems to be a pervasive sense of the inevitability of EU expansion and a simplistic resignation to it.
The people of the region and often their governments seem to feel that their countries will be in the EU almost by default - without any real effort on their part. The "return to Europe" is fated to happen and will take care of itself. Nothing can stop this process, it seems, and, rather as people in the UK feel about eventually giving up the pound for the euro, people may not like it, but they are resigned to it.
This indicates a feeling of public helplessness - of the individual's insignificance in the world around him - and is certainly related to traditional Central European fatalism in public life. Its implications go well beyond the subject of EU enlargement to the very state of democracy in this region and in Europe as a whole.
If the new, fragile democracies in the East - and even the older ones in the West - do not contain people who believe they can influence public events, if they are simply resigned to letting themselves be led down what ever path their leaders take them, then what gains has Europe really made in the last ten years - or the last fifty?
Public complacency and apathy are actually damaging the project of European integration itself; the experience of the Czech Republic can serve as a warning to the other hopeful applicants in the region. Czech assumptions of the inevitability of their EU entry have made light of the serious amount of work that is required in the legislative and economic fields - to say nothing of the environmental costs which Andreas Beckmann has outlined in his article for Central Europe Review this week.
Assuming their leaders knew what the public wanted and were achieving it, Czech citizens ignored the complexities of European integration. Assuming EU entry was simply normal and natural given the country's history, Czech intellectuals preferred to babble senselessly about their nation's "return to Europe" rather than focus on motivating the wider population for the intense public effort that will be needed for that "return." Assuming their country would get in anyway and under little public pressure to do otherwise, successive Czech governments have not been paying proper attention to moving through Parliament the massive piles of legislation needed to harmonise Czech law with European law.
Thus the country suffered one government that arrogantly figured Brussels would come begging to Prague, another government that has been too feeble to lay any decent amount of legislative groundwork for entry, an intellectual class off in cloud-cuckoo-land and a population thoroughly unaware of the meaning of EU membership. Only the agricultural sector seems to have any idea of the issues involved, but their recent protests and the valid issues they now raise should have been worked out in public debate at least seven years ago.
The Czech Republic's complacency has earned it scorn from Brussels, and the EU's particularly damning assessment of the country's preparedness last November will certainly be repeated in the next few months. The Czech Republic is still in the top set of candidates, but it has dropped from being the star pupil to bottom of the class.
Over the course of the decade, the Czech public's feeling of powerlessness led to resignation, and that in turn led to apathy on the part of the politicians. As a direct result, the country's European bid is now seriously flagging.
The Czech case demonstrates that EU enlargement cannot occur with a shoulder-shrugging attitude of perceived inevitability. It can only happen as a result of public pressure on local, national and international politicians.
There is nothing inevitable about European integration. It is a worthy aim but also a complicated process that takes tremendous effort at every level of society. Let us hope that complacency does not take other countries in the region down the Czech path.
Andrew Stroehlein, Editor-in-Chief, 26 July 1999
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