|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||21/03/96, Volume 2, Number 12|
The presidents of Bulgaria, Latvia and Estonia are set to visit the European Commission next week to seek reassurance that the EU will continue to include them in its planning for future enlargement.
The simultaneous timing of the visits has taken Eastern European diplomats keen to raise their country's profile by surprise, and has added to Bulgaria's resentment over the EU's alleged high-handedness.
With the likelihood growing that the first Central European reform states will be allowed into the Union by the end of this decade or early in the next, worry is mounting in Eastern Europe that the Union might close its door for a prolonged period once the first wave of entrants has joined.
This fear is particularly strong in the Baltic countries, where the drive towards EU (and NATO) membership is fuelled by fear of a resurgence of Russian imperialism. The Russian parliament's decision last week to rescind the 1991 treaty dissolving the Soviet Union, while not legally binding, sent shivers of apprehension down many Baltic spines.
Bulgaria, the least likely of the trio to win early entry into the EU, feels it is being sidelined in the enlargement debate and resents the fact that its president will have to share Commission President Jacques Santer's attention with his two Baltic colleagues when they visit Brussels next Tuesday (26 March).
In Sofia, the drive towards western integration was shaken last year amidst anger over the decision to put Bulgaria on the list of countries whose citizens need a visa to enter the EU.
Bulgaria's President Zhelyu Zhelev is expected to raise the subject when he meets Santer and Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek.
But EU diplomats stress that, in view of the high number of Bulgarians who entered the Union to apply for asylum, the disputed visa policy will not change.
Another contentious issue is the future of the antiquated nuclear power station Kozloduy, which Bulgaria reopened last year and refuses to close down despite pressure and offers of help from the Union.
While no decision on whom to admit first has been formally taken yet, there is little doubt that the Commission's avis (opinion) on Bulgaria's readiness for membership, due by the end of this year, will highlight the country's slow pace of privatisation and the generally slow pace of reform. Privately, diplomats acknowledge that, like Romania, Bulgaria stands no chance of being included in the first wave of EU enlargement.
Membership prospects for Estonia and Latvia, on the other hand, are part of a much more complex equation.
With economic performance still a key criterion, the Baltic countries' integration into the Union is being firmly placed by EU heads of government and diplomats within the larger context of the West's relationship with Russia.
Diplomats say that Russia, while remaining adamantly opposed to the Baltic republics' membership of NATO, has so far taken an attitude ranging from neutral to positive towards the inclusion of its neighbours in the EU.
In assessing the merits of Estonian and Latvian membership, the Union is bound to make the treatment of the large Russian minority living in either country a key consideration.
The need to accommodate Russia, however, is balanced by the Scandinavian countries' strong advocacy of the three Baltic republics' bid for membership.
On the economic front, Estonia has emerged as one of Eastern Europe's most successful reform countries, to the initial surprise of many western observers. Provided the tensions over Russian minority rights do not flare up, the prospects for Estonian membership look remarkably good, according to western diplomats.
The economic prospects of Latvia, which like its two Baltic neighbours has been shaken by a severe banking crisis, are more difficult to assess, say EU experts. Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs himself has acknowledged Union criticism that the country is lagging behind in its efforts to bring Latvian legislation into line with single market requirements.
|Subject Categories||Internal Markets, Security and Defence|
|Countries / Regions||Eastern Europe, Russia|