• 2000-11-16
The European Commission's progress report on EU applicant countries released in Brussels on Nov. 9 has not elicited great emotions from the three Baltic countries.

The report clearly stressed a gap between the front-runner among the Baltic states, Estonia, and its two sisters, Latvia and Lithuania, which still have to do much more than they have already done in order to catch the EU train.

The report says that Latvia and Lithuania can be regarded as countries with a functioning market economy, while Estonia is already seen as a functioning market economy.

So, despite some problems left, Estonia can hope to conclude accession talks by June 2002, if the enlargement road map is approved by the EU leaders in December. However, the country still has some things to correct, like a very high current account deficit, as well as problems in the pension and public health reform spheres.

Despite much harsher words for Latvia and Lithuania, leaders in those countries still hasn't given up hope to meet the 2002 "deadline."

EC in its progress report sharply criticized Latvia's and Lithuania's administrative capacity, delays in privatization, limited progress in the area of agriculture, and also called for faster moves in implementing structural reforms.

As the progress report deliberately did not select the most succesful EU candidate states, the negotiation process should not become less active.

But, in order to move forward on the enlargement process, both sides - the applicant countries as well as the European Commission itself should find a common view on how the future Union will function.

The runner-up countries are eager to enter the organization they really do not know, hoping for benefits this club of wealthy and stable members can share. The club, on the other hand, is scared by the unknown, poor neighbors who have just appeared from behind the "iron curtain", and are so eager to move in their neighborhood. They would want to accept them, mainly to make them look alike, for fear that, being denied, they might slide eastward and get a warm welcome indeed.

Now the European Commission has decided to get ready for new members in two years. So, the applicant countries, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have to clean their house and do their laundry quickly enough to enter the doors which have just opened.