The Wall Street Journal

November 18, 2002


EU Enlargement Gains Traction,
But Some States Remain Unsure


BRUSSELS -- Support for European Union enlargement is on the upswing in 10 candidate countries, but in several states the pro-EU camp remains small enough that success in national referendums next year is far from a sure thing.

A Eurobarometer survey released Friday shows support for EU membership rose to 52%, from 50% last year, among the 10 nations expected to become members of the EU in 2004. It also indicates 69% of people will vote "yes" in national referendums on joining the EU scheduled for next spring. The survey is the largest yet conducted of EU hopefuls, polling more than 12,000 citizens between September and October of this year.

"So far, support for the EU looks good," said Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman for the European Commission's enlargement team. "But we cannot fall asleep because there is still a lot of explaining to do."

To be sure, the commission is concerned weak results in candidate states such as Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia herald a tough battle to secure their membership. Just 32% of Estonians and 35% of Latvians think membership will be "a good thing," while only 43% of Slovenians actively support joining the union. Just 39% of Estonians currently say they will vote "yes" in the country's national referendum next year.

Latvia and Estonia are both former Soviet republics that spent more than 40 years under Moscow's control. As a result, "joining a new 'bloc' is psychologically difficult in the Baltic countries," said Mr. Filori. Many Slovenians oppose membership over fears their relatively prosperous nation will become a net contributor to the EU budget. Slovenia's gross domestic product per capita is currently more than €16,000, or 65% of the EU average, the highest level of any candidate state.

Weak support for EU membership in those nations, in part, reflects another problem: Seventy percent of people in EU candidate states said they either feel "not well informed" or "not informed at all" about their own country's accession process, according to the poll. The commission has approved €10 million to fund public-relations campaigns in candidate states. But most national governments have yet to launch serious programs promoting membership.

"The Polish government has not explained in a simple way what the EU means," said Anna Rozicka, executive director of the Stefan Batory Foundation, a Polish think tank.

That is a problem the commission hopes to help correct. On Friday in Warsaw, Administrative Reform Commissioner Neil Kinnock kicked off a series of speeches to explain how the commission works and how it will benefit new members. Mr. Kinnock dangled the prospect of 3,900 new jobs at the commission between 2004 and 2008 available to Poles and citizens of other new EU states.

"It will be a guarantee that the commission has officials who understand [Poland] and its needs, characteristics and systems," Mr. Kinnock said.

Separately, a new poll showed that 88% of people in northern Cyprus thought membership in the EU would be a "good thing." The figure is significant because Turkish Cypriots in the north of the divided island aren't scheduled to become EU citizens at the same time as the southern half, which is controlled by Greece. Sixty-nine percent of Turkish Cypriots said they would support Cyprus's accession to the EU in a referendum. United Nations negotiators will meet next week with Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders to try to negotiate a settlement for a united Cyprus to join the EU.

Other countries hoping to join the EU in 2004 include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta. Romania and Bulgaria aim to enter the union in 2007.

Write to Brian Grow at brian.grow@wsj.com2

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Updated November 18, 2002

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