REVIEW #20: The Past and Next 20 Years: Why Does CEE Need (More) EU?

This year’s 20th anniversary of the presence of Central and Eastern European countries in the structures of the European Union (EU) is a time to take stock and set new priorities. The upcoming twenty years are expected to be crucial, not only for these countries individually, but also for the overall structure of European collaboration and unity. The journey of CEE countries within the EU has been marked by significant advancements in economic growth, political stabilization, and cultural integration.

However, the road ahead is fraught with challenges and opportunities that necessitate a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the intricate dynamics between CEE and the EU. Therefore, it is crucial to delve into the multifaceted nature of their integration, exploring the economic disparities that must be bridged, the crucial role of political stability, the complex web of geopolitical pressures, and the rich potential of cultural fusion. It is a narrative that underscores the necessity of a stronger EU for CEE, not just as a convenience, but as a shared destiny and a mutual path towards progress.



Economic Integration: The Key to Bridging East and West in the EU

The economic situation in Europe is an intricate mix of differences, with Central and Eastern European countries experiencing notable inequalities when compared to their Western counterparts. To understand the reason for this variation, it is necessary to look at historical, political, and economic factors.

After the Cold War, CEE countries underwent a tumultuous transition from centrally planned economies to market-driven systems. While this transition was necessary, it was also fraught with challenges. Many companies that thrived under state control struggled to adapt to the global market, and the outdated infrastructure required significant investments to keep pace with modern economic demands.

Meanwhile, Western EU nations continued to advance, further widening the economic gap. This disparity is evident in various aspects of economic life – including the quality of public services, job opportunities, and the overall vibrancy of economic activities. The GDP numbers alone cannot capture the full extent of the division, as the everyday lives of citizens are significantly impacted by these economic differences. In essence, the economic landscape of Europe is a tale of two regions, each with its unique set of challenges and opportunities. While Western EU nations have established market economies that continue to thrive, CEE countries face a more challenging path towards economic growth and development.

Even before joining the European Union, the CEE countries were experiencing rapid economic growth as a result of free market reforms. EU accession gave a further boost to growth through access to the single market and development funds. Dynamic growth is confirmed by GDP per capita data.

However, there is still more potential for integration. Deeper economic integration is essential for the prosperity of CEE nations and the EU, requiring policy alignment and strong economic institutions. Enhanced cooperation presents opportunities for Western EU businesses in CEE markets, fostering growth and collaboration. By working together towards shared goals, a more resilient EU can be achieved, benefiting all member states. True economic integration goes beyond financial aid, focusing on policy harmonization and a united commitment to progress within the single market.


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Hubert Wejman