Bid to Join Europe's Club Puts Estonia on the Map

Public relations assault awakens diplomats and mapmakers to the tiny Baltic democracy

A veritable knowledge explosion has taken place in Brussels recently regarding Estonia. And the Estonian Mission to the European Union has the numbers to show it.

"It used to be that in the European Commission there were only 50 people or so who knew what Estonia was. Or where," says a mission official who asked that his name not be used. "Now there are at least 200."

He pauses to reconsider his estimate of the earlier figure. "I think 50 may be too high. I don't think it was quite 50 before."

This Baltic republic's relentless campaign for a place on the list of prospective new members of the European Union appears to have paid off. Estonia, one of the dark-horse candidates for entry, is one of five East European countries recommended for membership. It also is the first prospective member that used to be part of the Soviet Union itself, and not just the Soviet bloc.

Knowledge is power

To make their case, the Estonians have produced 2,000 pages of documentation on their country, and answered a lot of questions again and again. "People were so surprised: Are you really so advanced? Is your economy really so liberalized?" the mission official says.

The Estonians are clearly thrilled to be on the list, and the Commission's written opinion on their prospects for membership is being translated into Estonian and widely read on the Internet. The mission official catches himself before calling it a "bestseller," but says, "A lot of people have been looking at this document."

In times past, this official goes on, many maps of Europe left Estonia off. The place where Estonia should have appeared was often occupied with an inset box giving the map's legend instead. But that has changed. "All the newspapers ... have produced very nice maps, with Estonia in the right place."

The official finds a reassuring precedent in the case of two of his neighbors. As recently as the early 1990s, he says, a Commission map of Europe showed Finland identified as Sweden, and vice versa. Since 1995, both countries have been members of the EU - and correctly identified on the maps.

If the unwritten motto of the EU is, "No decision taken any sooner, or any further, than is absolutely necessary," the motto of the aspiring EU members may well be, "All things come to him who hustles while he waits."

Handshake diplomacy

Even at the height of the summer vacation season, the representatives of the candidate members are eager to greet a visitor to Brussels, the EU headquarters, and discuss the intricacies of EU applications.

The Commission's document on expansion, called Agenda 2000, was sharply critical of even the best-positioned of the candidates. Yet these countries seem to regard this criticism as constructive.

Krzysztof Trepczynski, counselor at the Polish Mission to the EU, pronounces himself "very satisfied with the content" of the Commission's report, which he calls "the best overall evaluation of my country I have ever read, and I've read several." Poland was also among the group of five prospective new members.

This is a time of year when most Brussels officials seem to be either on vacation themselves or filling in for at least two other colleagues who are. And as the city empties of Eurocrats who fill its office blocks, it fills up with tourists who flock to the Grand Place, the famous market square, and the surrounding areas, with the gilded and gabled faades of their guildhalls.

The more discerning of these visitors will note that the guild mentality lives on in this part of the world as more than an architectural legacy. Guilds, the medieval trade unions, were careful not to let just anybody in.

But, Mr. Trepczynski says, "Things are moving very rapidly, very rapidly" on EU expansion. As recently as 1991, he says, the Polish-European association agreement, a sort of forerunner to a membership treaty, had only a clause "recognizing that the final objective of Poland is to become a member" of what was then still the European Community.

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