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European Press Review: EU Expansion Fears

Editorialists at leading European papers on Friday weighed the advantages and disadvantages of European Union expansion.

"No need to fear the EU" -- at least that’s what the Czech daily Mlada fronta dnes wrote: “Granted, many things in the EU are ridiculous -- take the quarrel about whether apricot jam can be described as marmalade. Others are simply bad, like the agricultural policy. But look at the positive side of things: Citizens of the EU enjoy great freedoms, including the freedom of expression, and the courts are independent. Yes, we can laugh at people in the candidate countries who are looking forward to EU membership like children waiting for Christmas. But don’t be mistaken: fearing the EU is by far more ridiculous,” the paper concluded.

Der Standard in Vienna put the EU enlargement into a historical perspective: “Officially, the new members do not use the euro, the Schengen border is still with us, and new EU citizens will still be asked to produce their passports. In that sense, the expansion of EU territory is little more than window dressing. The real importance of May 1, 2004 is its historical dimension: It’s the day when most of the former communist countries join the Western bloc. And the more important ones come as a logical consequence of their membership in NATO, the paper said.

Under the heading “Eastern promise,” London’s The Guardian cautioned against a 'we’ll go it alone' attitude on the part of the established EU members, and it took a critical look at British anti-EU sentiment: “Seen through the narrow lens with which Britain gazes suspiciously at all things that emanate from Brussels, the enlargement of the European Union may seem to present little cause for celebration and no little cause for anxiety. How will it be easier to reach a consensus in meetings which will now be 50 strong?” the paper wondered. “As the borders shift eastwards so does Europe’s center of gravity. This poses a challenge to our western-centric way of seeing things. But it is an opportunity, too, not least for the stalled and negative British debate on the EU,” the paper attested.

In France, Le Figaro took issue with President Chirac’s comments about the new EU club. He didn’t offer any new ideas. Worse still, he chose a cautious approach at a time when there are urgent questions to be answered. After all, the Europe of 25 must go beyond a huge common market that is otherwise impractical."

The Danish daily Information saw tough times ahead for Germany as a result of the enlargement: “That country had better recognize that the days when it was the most prosperous and most everything are numbered, the paper warned. It’s a lie when Chancellor Schröder says eastern Germany is on the right path. He ignores the fact that the huge transfer payments from east to west have come to haunt western Germans. Today, this poses a much bigger danger than 15 million frustrated eastern Germans.”

Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung called on Germans to view the EU enlargement as an opportunity rather than a threat. “Germans are in for a hard time on May 1, it said. They will open their eyes to a new, enlarged Europe. It’s a place of pickpockets and mafia bosses, where desperate job-seekers are prepared to work for next to nothing and where the only development is a new strain of the AIDS virus. The new Europe has become a monster to many, not only in Germany, and as a result, Labor Day looks more like doomsday to them. But once on track, the country that lies at the heart of the new Europe -- Germany -- is likely to benefit most. That’s the message for Labor Day: Don’t despair, it can be done!”

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