Monday, May 02, 2005

One Year in Europe

One year after enlargement by Katinka Barysch

It's a year since the ten new member countries - from Estonia to Cyprus - joined the European Union. A new chapter in the long history of European integration took its beginning.

When I was in Vilnius in Lithuania last week, the Seimas - their Parliament - had a special session to celebrate what had been achieved during this year.

If we look at how public opinion has changed in the different parts of Europe during this year, it's a story of different trends.

In the new member states, public support for membership seems uniformly to have increased during the past years. It's very noticeable in a country like Poland, where there was a considerable sceptic section of public opinion before.

A concrete expression of this was the decision of Latvia during the weekend to join the so called ERM", which is the antechamber to becoming a full member of the monetary union and introduce the Euro. The move was taken together with Cyprus and Malta, and they then joined Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia, with all of them aiming for Euro introduction in 2007 or, at the very latest, 2008.

The different steps might be different. But the trend in terms of both policies and public opinion is the same in all the countries. They feel the new opportunities that European Union membership has given them.

In the "old" member states, it seems to be a somewhat different picture. There is a growing apprehension over the effects of increased competition coming from the East of Asia and the East of Europe, and accordingly a certain fatigue with the process of further enlargement. Backward-looking politicians are looking at different ways of curbing the competitive advantages of the new member states.

Taken together, it's a picture of a Europe where change is accelerating, and where the different effects of the enlargement are the key drivers of that change.

It is - as I have written about - the Tallinn-Bratislava process that is starting to transform Europe.

We have only seen the first year.