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Growing EU Brings International Leaders and Issues to UCLA
A panel moderated by UCLA historian Ivan Berend (left) took up social and economic issues in nations that joined the EU in 2004. Officials from Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia and the Czech consul in Los Angeles spoke. (Photo by Kevin Matthews)

Growing EU Brings International Leaders and Issues to UCLA

Panelists from Central European countries discuss impact of integration, stability of democracies.

The Articles of Confederation was a document designed to govern 13 states, which contained about 4 million people who basically all spoke one language. The EU contains 27 nation-states that include over 140 million people who speak 23 different languages.

This article was first published in The Daily Bruin on April 19, 2007.

By Rotem Ben-Shachar, for The Daily Bruin

Panelists from several Central European countries spoke favorably of their countries' integration into the European Union during a symposium on campus Wednesday, though some said they were hesitant about future success.

The symposium, hosted by the UCLA Anderson School of Management, discussed the impact of integrating Central European countries into the European Union in 2004. [The UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies was co-sponsor of this event.]

"For these countries, joining the EU was historically momentous, full of promise, and as we look back, has been generally successful," said Judy Olian, dean of the Anderson School.

The countries are admitted into the EU based on a set of laws called the "acquis communautaire," which include that the country must have a secular, democratic government and meet human rights requirements.

Two keynote speakers began the conference by talking about the effect of the EU on Europe and the rest of the world.

After, panelists from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic explained the political, social and economic impacts integration into the EU has had on their countries.

Rockwell Schnabel, the American ambassador to the EU from 2001 to 2005, was the first keynote speaker and emphasized the success of the EU as a whole. He said though the EU was created for security reasons, the union has now become an economic, political and military power, though it is only 50 years old.

"It has the most successful economy in the world, and it's growing faster than that of the U.S.," he said. "It's made Europe much more competitive."

Hannele Tikkanen, a trade counselor for the European Commission in Washington, was the second keynote speaker and also highlighted the success of the EU.

"It's the only continental democracy, and a successful one at that," she said, referring to the EU's central government.

But she stressed that the EU is still a work in progress. She compared the EU to the U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation, arguing that the U.S. government then had fewer people to govern than the EU and still had many problems.

"The Articles of Confederation was a document designed to govern 13 states, which contained about 4 million people who basically all spoke one language. The EU contains 27 nation-states that include over 140 million people who speak 23 different languages. It's a much bigger job," she said.

Yet all four panelists agreed that entering the EU was beneficial to their countries to some degree.

"Hungarian society has been stabilized by the accession," Miklos Merenyi, state secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of Economy and Transport said.

But Martin Dvorak, commercial and economic counselor of the Embassy of the Czech Republic, was more unsure of the positive impact the EU will have on the Czech Republic.

"Joining the EU means we have rules we have to respect. The question is, are we going to open the door to the EU and accept them, because we usually do not like rules," he said.

But Tomas Bican, economic officer of the Embassy of the Slovak Republic, said though his country's path to the EU has been rocky, it has been beneficial. After splitting with the Czech Republic in 1993, Slovakia entered what Bican described as a "black hole" that was hard to get out of.

"I think the EU will help Slovakia remain successful and continue growing," he said.

The panel also discussed more controversial topics, including whether the countries' democracies are in danger.

All the panelists except Dvorak said their countries were in no danger.

Jerzy Kwiecinski, Poland's deputy minister of regional development, said he believes the foundation for democracy in Poland is strong, and because the economy is booming, it is safe.

Though Dvorak said he believes the EU will better protect democracy in the Czech Republic, he said it is no guarantee the country will not revert back to socialism.

"It's as if people are in a cage where they are given food and shelter. Suddenly, they are allowed to go out into the jungle and explore, but they must find food and shelter on their own. Many people want to stay in the cage because it is easier," he said.

Center for European and Eurasian Studies