Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Estonia: Changed and Changing

The International Herald Tribune has published a Letter from Estonia, documenting the changes that membership of the EU has wrought in that country, as well as the changes that Estonia is making to the European Union itself:
Membership in the European Union has changed Estonia, this small country of coastlines, forests, and wet plains, since it joined on May 1, 2004. Membership accelerated a transformation that began when Estonia emerged, limping and gray, from communism 14 years ago.

But Estonia has in turn changed Europe. In a way that could hardly have been foreseen last year, the entry into the EU of 10 new countries - eight, including Estonia, from behind the former Iron Curtain - triggered a tumultuous year and a crisis of confidence among the EU's old guard. The trends they imported - their rapid growth, fueled by low wages and low taxes, as well as a competitive zeal to make up for the last 50 years - threw into relief the moribund growth of older economies such as Germany and France.

The competitive threat posed by the new members alarmed Western voters, who feared for their jobs. That fear contributed to the defeat of the European constitution in France and the Netherlands. It led to the public's waning appetite for further EU enlargement - bad news for Turkey and Ukraine, even perhaps for Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, all yearning to join the EU's ranks.

Germany and France now engaged in debates about how to confront globalization and save their comfortable social models. But the view from this cool, northernmost tip of the group of new EU states suggests that the pressure for change that the new members are bringing to bear across Europe's broader political landscape is not about to abate.

In Estonia, roughly the size of the Netherlands - with less than a tenth of its population - one area where EU membership has had a big effect is politics. It has led to a political renaissance for a country that for centuries was a vassal state tossed between Scandinavian and German overlords. Most recently it smarted under the even stricter lash of Russia's Soviet empire.
Read the whole thing.

(Hat tip: Leopoldo)
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