- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

BRUSSELS The European Commission finally gave the go-ahead yesterday for the admission of 10 new states, but it said most are woefully ill-prepared to join Europe's free-market democracies.

Ready or not, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta are all on a course to join the European Union in early 2004, adding 73 million citizens from poor countries in a historic gamble that could overload the bloc to the breaking point.

Commission President Romano Prodi said enlargement is Europe's "political masterpiece," a bold move that would prevent the continent from ever falling back into fratricidal conflicts.

"Thirteen years ago, Berlin was still divided by a wall of shame. The wall has fallen, and we have rediscovered a historic unity between all our peoples," he said.

It will be up to EU prime ministers to make the final decision at the Copenhagen summit in December. While most are deeply worried that rushed enlargement will play havoc with EU finances and paralyze EU decision-making, none wants to be seen to be failing in their moral duty to embrace the once-captive nations of the Soviet Union.

The commission deemed that all 10 states met the entry requirements, having achieved stable democracies, the rule of law and market economies to withstand the rigors of the single market.

It described the "Big Bang" enlargement, heavily criticized as too much for one bite, as "a win-win game, in which the reunification of Europe will extend the area of peace, prosperity and security throughout the continent."

But the fine print told a very different story, cataloging fraud, crooked judicial systems and failure to get to grips with the 80,000 pages of EU law, the "Acquis Communautaire" across most of Eastern Europe.

Poland, with a greater population than the other nine put together, was singled out for harsh criticism. The report said that "corruption remains a cause for serious concern," and that there has been little progress in nurturing "a political, administrative and business culture that can resist corruption."

It said Poland was far from complying with EU rules on farming, fisheries, food safety, water quality and industrial pollution, and lacked the means to control the billions of euros in agricultural subsidies that soon start showering down on 5 million Polish farmers.

Latvia was slammed for "a very serious problem" with pre-trial detention and inefficient police and judges, plus a level of corruption that bred "suspicion and resentment."

Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were all castigated for persistent fraud and told to clean up their judicial systems.

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