Josef Borocz on the Basis of the EU’s Policy Toward Former Socialist States of Central Europe Based on the Legacy of the Cold War
Integration of Eastern Bloc states into the European Union (EU) has been markedly slow in comparison to its Western counterparts. Borocz and Larry Woolf assert that the stagnant, near-blocking motion of Western European-dominated organizations such as the EU carries with it a sociological, longue-duree contingent, identified by the historical and intellectual alienation of Eastern Bloc nations as a pervading “other” as perceived from the Age of Enlightenment. While there is significant merit to this argument, the geopolitical realities facing EU expansion throughout the continent outweigh the human facilities of traditional discrimination. With conflicted parties considering Turkey in the periphery of EU membership, the paradox of exclusion through minimal membership as outlined by Borocz and Woolf lends more toward matters of security and economic development rather than a notion as simplistic as the longue-duree facility of Eastern Europe as the “other.” Scholars such as Gale Stokes contend that inclusion of the Eastern Bloc brings more than just European unity, adding the need for new defense strategies as well as trade systems, the incorporation of which would require a degree of phased membership so as not to disrupt the development of existing EU member state economies. After considering both proponent and contrarian arguments to the longue-duree assertions of Borocz and Woolf, it becomes evident that the geopolitical ramifications of full Eastern Bloc integration outweigh the possibility of traditional exclusion.
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Borocz states firmly that it would be a “mistake to attribute the European Union’s evident reluctance, condescension, and aversion vis-à-vis one of its immediate neighbors solely to the recent legacy of the Cold War”. Though the menace of Communism and the burgeoning global influence of the Soviet Union and its satellite contemporaries during the Cold War certainly harvested alienation from the capitalist West, the specter of Eastern Europe as the “other” existed long before Stalin began the ascension of the USSR as a world superpower. As Woolf states, “the intellectual structures of half a century are slow to efface themselves, but above all the idea of Eastern Europe is much older than the Cold War,” the distinction between East and West “produced as a work of cultural creation, intellectual artifice, and ideological self-interest and self-pronunciation”. Borocz agrees, adding that “as critical work on the history of European ideas shows, a rational-Western self-image has produced, since the Enlightenment, the notion of ‘East Europeanness’ [sic] as a rudimentary, ‘rustic’ and low-scale version of itself”. Where France, Germany, and England found themselves exploring philosophy, trade, and science, the common Western perception of the East developed as a darker side of Europe, one bordering the outside forces of Africa and Asia. All this developed despite the military action of nations such as Austria and Spain preventing the further advances of forces such as the Turks and the Moors, arguably leaving the remainder of Europe in the peace required to become “enlightened.” Such alienation, Woolf argues, gradually pushed Eastern Europe indirectly, lumping its association in such a way that Eastern Europe became an intermediary between Asia and Western Europe. The East was therein belittled further, diminished in intellectual capacity to the perceived “barbarities” of the non-European world. The concept of the “East” was therefore manufactured intellectually by Western European nations, a manifestation of alienation due to the proximity to and exchange with non-European countries. Future “admission of the Hungarian (Polish, Czech, Slovene, etc) society to full membership in European Union as equal [sic] partners would thus require no less than the erasure and re-inscription of an over two-hundred year-old” image of West European identity construction,” a lofty goal to achieve in the relatively small period of time in which deliberation regarding membership would hence occur. The human agent in such an action, the longue-duree proclivities of transcending centuries-old prejudice would therefore “involve reimagining [sic] the weaker, ignored, belittled scientifically and officially apprehended and described—hence objectified—other as a dynamic, inspiring, lively, and exciting partner characterized by a complex subjectivity”. Such an adjustment in policy and personal perception would therefore facilitate the delay Borocz describes in his account of Hungarian attempts at EU membership. Adjustments of the aforementioned type paradoxically are warranted by existing Western European member states, not the Eastern state in question applying for EU membership. Borocz and Woolf speculate on the erstwhile definition of integration into the EU and the implications such an action would carry. Borocz concludes that the “essence of the European Union’s strategy vis-à-vis the central and eastern European applicants is integration without inclusion, participation in the production systems, and appendance to the consumption markets of EU corporations without the attendant political, economical, social, and cultural rights conferred by European Union citizenship”. That the Eastern Bloc is aware of this inequity suggests the acceptance of said fact, returning the EU as an organization to a reincarnation of Enlightenment-era prejudice, exclusion, and exploitation. The concept of “Europeanness” here would be nominal at best, as Eastern Europe would be included at face value, never accepted as a contemporary of its Western counterpart.
Appendini and Bislev argue in their Integration in NAFTA and the EU that the phenomenon of European integration is “reminiscent of the classical historical process of state and nation building” as perceived from “European history: a set of regulations being established for a territory (an expanding one, but at each moment precisely defined)”. Contrary to Borocz’s observation of deliberate Western procrastination in the acceptance of Eastern membership, Appendini and Bislev suggest the vast requisite regulations which would ensure stable integration into the existing EU framework take time to implement, and suggest that the dismissal of the necessary implementation procedures would compromise the legitimacy of Eastern bloc membership, hence reducing membership to the aforementioned paradoxical state Woolf and Borocz describe. Most prominent among the issues faced by Western Europe were addressed by Denmark, who, despite descriptions of being “the most knowledgeable and well-informed about European matters,” are “just about the most negatively inclined towards integration” owing to the question of “the welfare state, broadly defined”. The relative economic underdevelopment of the Eastern Bloc, from a macro-economical standpoint, would beg the question of fiscal compromise on the part of Western member states. At which point would European integration serve existing members? The longue-duree aspect of political weight here manifests itself in the conceptualization of national discourse and the common interest formed by the EU. If the EU serves as a means to galvanize the continent in matters of policy and economic decision-making, at which point would Eastern European interests counterbalance and take precedence over the interests of Western Europe? The integration of Eastern member states would have to provide at the very least the potential to benefit existing Western members.
Moving past fiscal issues brings to the forefront the question of protocol in the realm of geopolitical and global security realities. Gale Stokes suggests that “nation inclusion opens borders, creating the need for new defenses and changes in strategy”; for instance, “Poland and the Baltic nations are still redefining their defense strategies in the wake of the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution”. The integration of most Eastern Bloc states would include the “onerous burden of having to create a new national defense policy,” conceivably overshadowed by the added weight of having to develop “national welfare and infrastructure building” to meet EU standards. Were these nations able to achieve such goals independent of the EU, they would already have done so, begging the question of the true value of integration. In adopting Western Europe’s “particular set of basic values and beliefs” regarding “nationhood, popular sovereignty and democracy,” Eastern states would provide the Western EU members with added stresses, disrupting the function of an already uncertain establishment. From a security standpoint, Western states would be naturally apprehensive of the geopolitical changes and new threats that have emerged since the Cold War; in this sense, Borocz’s assertions of Western hesitation would be justified. The conflict in Bosnia, for example, is a quintessential example of the types of wars that deter “most aligned countries from seeking” full integration, as Western Europe was intent at the end of WWII to avoid such “explosive territorial, ethnic, or religious conflicts”. Lengthy but legitimizing measures such as the temporal associate-member status of the Eastern Bloc are regulations asserted to be “superior to others”; legitimacy can only be attempted through the “decision-making mechanisms established” in existing EU membership protocol. Gale Stokes notes Lithuanian Defense Minister Andrius Butkevicius’ hierarchy of threats, citing:
“…instability in the former USSR, followed by ethno-religious and territorial conflicts, followed by crime and industrial disasters. With the threat of high-intensity conflicts unlikely in the short run, nations face subtler threats, including disaster-relief operations, peace operations, international crime and drug trafficking, illegal migration, and terrorism. The escalation of such threats to regional conflicts is a threat to long-term security [for the EU as a whole]”.
Since Borocz crafted his article, various Eastern Bloc nations have begun their integration into the EU. Their experiences, however, should be duly noted in modern issues such as Turkish ascension and the political ramifications of European inclusion of states such as Serbia and Croatia. Assertions of longue-duree such as those intimated by Borocz and Woolf are not necessarily negated by Eastern admittance (albeit partial) to the EU; the potential still exists for furthered exploitation, as full membership is contingent on Western attitudes and political action. Theoretically speaking, Eastern nations are never fully guaranteed equality in such integration; ironically, unity seems to be a concept extending only to those who have the political and economical clout to take the steps to make it a reality. The modicum of exclusion still existing in the minds of Western Europe limit the EU’s scope and function, as it “is probably not going to be a nation-state in the classical sense” owing to the “fragmented and disperse elements of European identities” preventing the assembly of “anything resembling even a modest version of a national identity”. The “associate membership” Borocz describes still has the potential to retard the EU’s abilities to function as a cohesive whole. While the policies of the EU may not be largely based on an isolated perception of the Cold War Eastern Bloc nations, the essence of the EU strategy remains integration without full inclusion, the fact remains that a degree of inequity will pervade the EU’s future functions and day-to-day dealings on the global stage. The degree of integration and the increment steps coerced upon Eastern member ascension therefore remains in the eye of the beholder, so to speak; for the optimist daring to believe in the potential of integration, the inequity of the present is attributed to a genuine concern for the future. To the cynic, however, the remarkably slow process of integration and Western Europe’s modern policies smack of the prejudiced perceptions of old.
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