SKOPJE, Macedonia, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The prolonged and irascible debate between members and would-be members of the European Union has taken its toll. In some candidate countries, pro-EU sentiment is on the wane. Leszek Miller, Poland's prime minister, told the PAP news agency that Poland should contribute to the EU less than it receives in agricultural subsidies. And what if not? "Nobody would be overly concerned if Poland did not enter the EU together with the first group of new members."
Hungary echoes this argument. Almost two-thirds of respondents in surveys conducted by the EU in Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Lithuania are undecided about EU membership or opposed to it altogether. The situation in the Czech Republic is not much improved. Only Hungary stalwartly supports the EU's eastern tilt.
Opinion polls periodically conducted by GfK Hungaria, a market research group owned by GfK Germany, paint a more mixed picture. On the one hand, even in countries with a devout following for EU accession, such as Romania, support for integration has declined this year. Support in Hungary and Poland, on the other hand, picked up.
Yet, the EU can't seem to get its act together. According to the Danish paper, Berlingske Tidende, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen rules out a "take it or leave it" ultimatum to the candidates. There will be "real negotiations," he insisted. Not so, says Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish president of the EU until Dec 31: "The room for maneuver in negotiations will be very limited ... We have a certain framework, and we stick to it."
Yet, disenchantment should not be exaggerated. Naturally, flood-affected farmers throughout the region -- from the Czech Republic to Poland -- are vigorously protesting their unequal treatment and the compromises their governments are arm-twisted into making. Still, according to a survey released last December by the European Commission, 60 percent of the denizens of the accession countries support it.
As the endgame nears, the parties to the negotiations are posturing, though. EU enlargement commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, argued two weeks ago against equalizing support for Poland's 6 million farmers with the subsidies given to the EU's 8 million smallholders. In a typical feat of incongruity, he said it will prevent them from modernizing and alienate other professions.
Franz Fischler, the Austrian EU's agriculture commissioner, hinted that miserly production quotas for cereals, meat and dairy products, offered by the EU to the seething applicants, can be augmented. The EU at present provides the candidate countries with funding, within the Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development to support farm investments, to boost processing and marketing of farm and fishery products and to bankroll infrastructure improvements. Hungarian farmers, for instance, are entitled to up to $38 million of SAPARD money annually.
In a thinly veiled threat, Fischler included this in a speech he made in a recent official visit to Estonia: "The EU enlargement countries should be pleased with the 25 percent agriculture subsidies, as the member states have not agreed even on that yet, therefore this should be the first goal and only after that can further subsidies be discussed ... It would not be very wise to tell the EU member states that accession countries are not pleased, that would not be positive for the whole process."
Small wonder he was whistled down by irate Polish parliamentarians in an address to a joint session of the parliamentary committees for agriculture and European integration in the Sejm. Poland's fractured farm sector is notoriously inefficient. With one-quarter of the labor force it produces less than 4 percent of gross domestic product. But the peasants are well represented in the legislature and soaring unemployment -- almost one-fifth of all adults -- makes every workplace count.
In the meantime, the 10 would-be new members of the EU have teamed up to present their case in Brussels. Their ministers of finance, foreign affairs and of agriculture, parliamentary deputies in their finance and farm committees -- all issued and issue common statements, position papers, briefings and memoranda of understanding. But no one is inclined to take such ad-hoc alliances among the candidate countries seriously. The disparity between their farm sectors is such that it rules out a single voice.
Moreover, the EU is strained to the limit of its habitual consensus-driven decision making. The breakdown of the European mechanism of deliberation was brought into sharp relief by the way in which the future of the EU's common agricultural policy was decided in a series of chats between the leaders of France and Germany in a hotel in Brussels. Their deal was later rubberstamped, unaltered, in a summit of all EU members last month.
The EU is in constitutional and institutional flux. Small and even medium sized members -- such as the United Kingdom -- are marginalized. As the EU grows to 25 countries, a core of leadership will emerge. It will involve Germany, France and, potentially Britain and Italy. These will hand down blueprints to be fleshed out by the less significant states and by an increasingly sidelined EC and a make-believe European Parliament.
The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are and will, for a long time, be second class citizens, tolerated merely because they provide cheap, youthful labor, raw materials and close-by markets for finished goods. The candidates are strategically located between the old continent and booming Asia.
EU enlargement is a thinly disguised exercise in mercantilism tinged with the maudlin ideology of embracing revenant brothers long lost to communism. But beneath the veneer of civility and kultur lurk the cold calculations of realpolitik. The applicant countries -- the EU's hinterland -- would do well to remember this.
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