- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

NICOSIA, Cyprus — From Warsaw to this Mediterranean republic, concern is growing among the 10 countries scheduled to join the European Union in May that they are about to enter a deeply troubled organization.

They note the failure of the 15 present EU members to agree on a constitution or voting system, the apparent determination of France and Germany to dominate the grouping, and talk about a “two-speed” system of assimilation that would make the new members “second-class Europeans,” according to one view from Poland.

Above all, prices continue to rise in the 12 countries that have adopted the euro as their common currency, dramatically so in some countries such as Greece.

“The honeymoon period is over for good as the harsh economic reality of becoming an EU member sets in,” wrote the English-language Cyprus Mail newspaper.

“The argument put to people on the benefits of joining was political from day one,” said James Ker-Lindsay of the Civilitas think tank in Nicosia, capital of divided Cyprus.

The official Greek-Cypriot view is that EU membership will help prevent any confrontation with the 35,000-strong Turkish military contingent in northern Cyprus.

Turkey indeed may shy away from the thought of a conflict with an EU member, but Brussels has never indicated that the EU has contemplated military involvement on the island.

The EU has adopted a vague “common defense policy,” but that remains mainly on paper — and far from the “strategic culture that fosters early, rapid and, when necessary, robust intervention” envisioned by its authors.

Statements across the continent show that Europeans are deeply concerned about galloping price increases and various economic-adjustment measures.

A Eurobarometer poll shows that 89 percent of the inhabitants of countries using the euro are convinced that the common currency is to blame for price increases, and only 47 percent are happy with it.

In Greece, the prices of 42 typical food products rose 24.75 percent this year, according to the figures of the Development Ministry. A private survey found that 50.5 percent of Greek households are financially worse off than last year.

“Most Greek households these days are having a hard time balancing their budgets,” wrote the Athens daily Kathimerini. “The average Greek is unable to put anything aside, and in most cases the family budget is in the red.”

There is also fear that EU expansion will facilitate the activities of organized crime syndicates.

The European police agency Europol estimates there are 3,000 such gangs on EU territory with more than 30,000 people involved in their activities. “There is evidence of collaboration between different groups, causing a significant threat” to the European Union, the agency said.

EU enlargement will put its borders next to the smuggling networks of Russia, Ukraine and Moldova “at a time when stricter border controls appear inadequate to discourage organized crime,” Europol added.

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