Is There an East-West Divide in the European Union? (event archive)

April 12, 2011 by  

Marion Smith moderated a debate between two young scholars, Gergely Romsics (research fellow at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs) and András Rácz (research fellow at the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs), who addressed the economic, cultural and historical differences of the new and old member states.

Please visit our program page for more information on Europe Debates. 

Special thanks to the Allianz Kulturstiftung for sponsoring this event.

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According to some at CSS, this was too rhetorical a question for CSS to raise—of course there is a divide among eastern and western EU member states, they say. Gergely Romsics and András Rácz of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, both with solid background in the practice and theory of EU affairs, engaged in an intellectual exercise to debate the resolution.

The fiscal mess and economic governance have highlighted the tensions in the EU despite the year of Central and Eastern Europe (represented by the Hungarian and Polish presidencies of the Council of the European Union).

There is at least a threefold east-west divide as the debaters and audience members pointed out.

First, in the discursive dimension the political language keeps bringing half-voiced issues to the surface.  For new accession countries, doubts of their capabilities to preside over the Council of the EU were raised in several disguises: would Slovenia be big enough and would its bureaucratic capacity suffice? How would the Czech eurosceptic governing party fare? Is Budapest the proper leader for the Council when there is some unclear business going on concerning the fundamentals of democracy? On the other hand, despite the financial bail-out and the obvious violations of the Maastricht criteria, no Western member state has ever been questioned in its capacity to lead the Council previously.

Second, finances and hard numbers speak very clearly about the East-West divide of access to funding. In the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) framework, Western member states get approximately 2.2-2.4 times more funds for the same size of farms than their Eastern counterparts. This, to some extent, defeats the purpose of the equalizing and development objectives of the CAP.

Finally, there are extreme differences in the lobbying power between Eastern and Western European countries (except maybe for Poland, due to its sheer size). No Eastern European initiative has actually received significant funding since the 2003 accessions.

To summarize, there do appear to be distinct differences between the European East and the West at several levels. Therefore, there is a tacit understanding that a divide between the two parts of the EU exists.

On the other hand, the time aspect of development and homogenization should not be ignored. Many differences may be only temporary in nature, since new EU member states need more time to adapt to the ins and outs of the EU.

To understand the true nature of the perceived divide, it was suggested that the difference should be seen in terms of (good and bad) economic performance, rather than geographic location. Therefore the East and West should not be seen as homogenous entities themselves.

Among the debaters and audience members there was a general agreement that the whole notion of the divide is in fact largely generated by the East, which talks too much about post-Socialist inherited economic hardships and cultural traits. However, it cannot be said that new accession states are self-excluding themselves from, for instance, CAP funding. In fact, it makes perfect sense that such disparities would be overlooked or ignored by Western countries.

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