AT a recent demonstration in Minsk supporting democracy and closer ties with the West, marchers mixed flags of their native Byelorussia with the flag of the European Community.Byelorussia is not a likely candidate for EC membership, especially if plans succeed for a "Euro-Asian" commonwealth replacing the Soviet Union. But the sprouting of the EC symbol at a domestic demonstration as far away as Minsk demonstrates just how attractive the EC has become to its neighbors. With nearly 20 European countries either already applying for membership or making loud noises about joining, the issue of the Community's enlargement from its current membership of 12 is set to dominate the EC's agenda throughout the 1990s.
Deeper vs. wider The old debate over whether to "deepen" the Community's institutions before "widening" them to include new members has been surpassed by events. Now as EC leaders debate everything from budgets, immigration, regional development, and trade, to further reforms of Community institutions, it will be done against a backdrop of an expanding and increasingly diverse union. Steps taken at the EC's recent landmark summit in Maastricht, Netherlands, "settle the deepening and widening debate, because we will now do both of those things" at the same time, said British Prime Minister John Major at the summit's close. Community integration in "1992 will begin a long debate on the enlargement the transformation - of the Community," says Philippe Moreau-Defarges, a European specialist with the French Institute for International Studies in Paris. The Maastricht meeting fixed 1999 as the latest date for creating a single European currency, and took some important steps, including laying the foundation of a future EC common defense, reinforcing the Community's political integration. But it also moved up the date for beginning membership negotiations with Austria and Sweden from 1993 to the second half of next year. More importantly, leaders set 1996 as the date for the next EC treaty revision, which most observers believe will be dominated by the institutional reforms the Community's expansion will require. Some officials, notably among the Germans, do not think that revision will come soon enough. Issues such as unanimous versus majority voting, already controversial among the EC's 12 members, will become more problematic and central to the organization's effectiveness when new members arrive. "The whole [enlargement] process is going to have some unpopular effects," says one German official. Reasons for the push to join the Community vary. For the wealthy countries of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), whose economies are well integrated into the EC's, membership is a way to gain a say in policies that already affect them profoundly. The poor, newly democratic countries of Eastern Europe see membership as the best path to prosperity and solid democratic institutions. They look to the astounding progress of countries like Spain and Portugal, EC members for less than six years, as their guide. A possible calendar might go something like this: Sweden and Austria will be members by 1995, if not before. Finland is to decide during the first six months of next year whether to apply, but some leaders are calling for an acceleration to "catch up" with Sweden and Austria. An ambivalent Norway would probably be pushed to join if Finland does. Switzerland is leaning toward "eventual" membership, although some Swiss leaders are calling for a referendum next year to speed up the process. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, which just last week signed economic association agreements with the EC, should be members by the end of the decade or early in the next century. Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltic states are likely to follow closely, as are some or all of the Yugoslav republics and Albania. In addition, Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta have already applied, but have each hit either political or demographic obstacles - Malta because it is so small, Turkey because it is so large and growing so fast. Although EC officials don't like to say it aloud, Turkey also poses troublesome cultural questions because it is a largely Islamic country. The officials also worry about Turkey's "uneven" human rights record.
Views of expansion The views of present members will largely determine the pace of Community expansion. It is not an issue that fosters unanimity. Germany, Italy, and Great Britain are strong supporters of opening the EC to Eastern Europe, though not always for the same reasons. Germany and Italy, the EC countries geographically farthest east, equate enlargement with European stability. Both countries have had recent experiences with East European refugees streaming over their borders. Instability in Eastern Europe means instability for them. Both countries also already have significant investments in Eastern Europe, and see enlargement as a two-way boon. Britain also supports admitting Eastern Europe, criticizing any expression of doubt or caution as reflective of a rich man's club too focused on its own affairs. But the Britain that opposes any moves towards a "federal" Community is also suspected by its partners of pushing enlargement as a way of rendering a supranational Europe less likely. France has been the strongest opponent of enlargement since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The French feared that expansion to the east would result in a German-dominated Community, replacing the EC's traditional Paris-Bonn axis of power and initiative. The French also preferred first creating a "deeper" union in the image of France's highly centralized political system - thus President Francois Mitterrand's comment early this year that it would be "dozens and dozens of years" before Eastern Europe joined. That point of view has begun to evolve over recent months, however. One reason is that the French are beginning to see enlargement as a means of diluting Germany's growing power. One example is France's very keen desire to see a single European currency by 1997. Last week's hike in German interest rates, almost certain to force another painful increase in French rates, will only increase France's desire for a currency managed by a European central bank and for a Europe out from under the German Bundesbank.
Economic standards But a single currency in 1997 - the earliest date possible - can only happen if a majority of EC members meet the strict economic criteria set at Maastricht by 1996. Thus France's recent warming to membership of EFTA countries, the most likely candidates to meet those criteria. Mr. Mitterrand is even said to have told Swedish leaders last week that a fast track might get them in the EC by 1993 or 1994, although the Swedes say that for now they prefer a 1995 entry. As for the Community's poorer members, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland figure they have perhaps a decade before other "poor" countries gain entrance. But they will remain cautious over economic moves that would damage their own growth or reduce their own access to Community development funds. "Certainly we want to encourage Eastern Europe in its economic and democratic development," says a Spanish official in Madrid, "but we can't forget that many of our own people live at levels considerably below the Community average." The enlargement issue on the horizon is one reason Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez Marquez fought so hard in Maastricht for a commitment to higher funding for the EC's poorer members. Money is an important reason the EFTA countries are unlikely to confront many objections to their membership - they will be net payers into the system. Beyond the EFTA countries, however, "People will start realizing that enlargement is going to be very expensive, and that's going to upset carts across the EC," says Mr. Moreau-Defarges. "Germany wants to be heard saying 'yes' to the East, but [the Germans] don't say they're ready to pay."
Questions remaining Yet ultimately more threatening than money issues to the Community's effectiveness, cohesion, and perhaps even its existence, will be the prickly institutional questions that determine how the Community works, how it meets its members' needs, and how it operates in the world. Leaders must determine how to keep the Community democratic and maintain its effectiveness as it expands. "Cultural and historical differences are going to intensify, not lessen," says Moreau-Defarges. "It's one thing to operate at 12 or 15, but it's another thing to do it as a Europe of 25 to 30." "The number of small members is going to grow," he says, adding that the Community has traditionally been dominated by its larger members. Leaders will have to address smaller members' concerns over representation.