The changes in Central and Eastern Europe is something that has been studied in a great depth since the collapse of Communism in the late 1980’s. There are now a number of contemporary issues facing Europe and in particular its future relations between the European Union (E.U.) and central and Eastern Europe regarding membership of the E.U. The main issues over stumbling blocks that will make it difficult to integrate East with West and that of bringing the two Europe’s closer together would appear to be the most pertinent if homogeneity is to be achieved. (Minshull, 1990)
Membership of the E.U. is seen as essential to the former socialist nations not only for “the successful transition from Soviet-style command economy to a free market, but also as a guarantee of long term political stability.” (Bleaney, 1990). Those nations such as the Ukraine and many of the Balkan states have been firmly set on the path towards European integration and the membership of the E.U. since the fall of their former socialist leaderships. There are those within the E.U. that argue against these nations joining over issues based on the political and economic immaturity of the newly emerged democracies.
In addition there are those in the Union that are fearful of a rush of immigrants from the former socialist nations. In particular Spain, Portugal and Greece are concerned that the influx, of what would be internal immigrants, of unskilled, un-unionised and cheap labour could have a detrimental effect on their main competitive advantages within the E.U. (Dunford and Perrons, 1994)
Perhaps though the most serious and difficult issue confronting these former socialist nations over membership to the E.U. is over Nationalism and Ethnicity. Although there is a concern over how they will survive the economic reforms necessary much of the union is concerned whether these states legimately can accept the independence of the other successor states. Because of the expansionist nature of the former communist state, the national consciousness has been centred on the empire and not the individual nation. These states have never been forced until now to define precisely who is a citizen and what the proper limits of their territory should be. (Reitberger, 1998)
Returning to the issue of the economies of these former socialist nations there are those in the capitalist Union that consider the shift from the centralised communist state to a free market society is to quick. Parker, 1993, stated that there could in fact be three approaches to the economic integration of the former socialist states. Firstly, there is the approach “of rapid change and restructuring of the economy as well as political structures.” (Parker, 1993). This though was dismissed on the basis that “it would cause major disruption due to the uncompetitiveness of the industry in World terms and the need to restructure and re-capitalise it.” (Parker, 1993)
Secondly, some hold the view that a long-term approach was probably best with many of the structures and policy staying in place for the foreseeable future. This though would still leave many of the inherent problems in place and perhaps they would in fact never change.
Thirdly Parker suggests a mix between the former communist system and the capitalist Western system. This has been however rejected as being not feasible to mix the two systems. (Parker, 1993)
The E.U. pursuit of a level playing field where free and fair competition can proceed apace has placed limits on the options available to the national governments of these former socialist states to promote development within their burgeoning economies. For example, state aids to uncompetitive industries have been deemed incompatible with E.U. ideals and therefore have been abolished or harmonised throughout the Union.
Consequently, when related to structural and competitive weaknesses of the manufacturing base in these former socialist states, such a free market program has the potential to severely reduce industrial capacity and deepen the West-East divide in the E.U. further. (Pinder, 1991)
It is likely that if the integration of these nations into the E.U were uncontrolled it would lead to the divergence of development in the E.U. as a whole. It is also important to note that integration has the effect of decreasing the power of natural governments over such development in their countries for two reasons. Firstly, increased competition from the expanded market will make national governments hesitant to prevent additional development in their most prosperous regions of their nations for fear of losing productive potential to other countries of the Union. Secondly, in the new market, an increased proportion of income generated by development in a given nation will be spent on imports, reducing the local multiplier effect and making national policies less effective. (Nevin, 1990)
Returning to the issue of ethnicity and migration, they can be seen as an integral part of globalisation – “those economic, social, cultural and political processes whereby places across the globe are increasingly interconnected.” (Giddens, 1991)
Membership of the E.U. would create more people on the move in the region and more problems in those places that attract them. However internal migration can be seen as being attractive to those regions or countries that are experiencing a labour shortage. There are many examples already in many of the Western European countries, of workers being imported whether to work land or in factories. Some are allowed to remain and can be joined by dependants once the work has been completed, but others are sent home once they are jobless.
Tensions arise when these immigrants are allowed to remain as permanent residents. They are readily targetable because they are identifiably culturally different. These tensions rise during times of economic difficulty, when immigrants can be regarded as threats to their host’s jobs and social positions. (Todd, 1987) Several European Union countries, notably, but not only, Austria, France and Italy, have experienced considerable anti-immigrant movements.
In addition this greater population mobility increases the dissemination of contagious diseases. This stimulates calls for careful regulation of such movements in order to protect the health status of some populations.
The attitude regarding these former socialist states never having to firmly define themselves permeates all levels of society and is seen by some as a psychological barrier preventing those in the E.U. from treating the former socialist states as truly independent from their former governors. However, many of these nations are happy with their release of long suppressed patriotic feelings, and this has resulted in nationalists and assertive behaviour.
E.U. membership for these former socialist nations is seen as a positive step towards the long term political stability of the region, the social and economic consequences for the existing members of the E.U. will be a large influencing factor when planning and implementation takes place.