Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 205

The European Commission (EC, the top executive organ of the European Union) yesterday issued an official recommendation against placing Latvia and Lithuania on the fast track to accession negotiations at this time. The EC “could envisage,” it said, a recommendation to invite Latvia to those negotiations by the end of 1999 and Lithuania at a later, but unspecified, time.

Estonia is the only Baltic state on the fast track–a recognition of its earlier progress toward meeting EU criteria. The EU recently acknowledged that Latvia had made great progress, virtually matching Estonia’s. While Lithuania had also made progress, it was to a decidedly lesser degree. Latvia was led to hope that it would be placed on the fast track at the EU’s summit next month. The country retains a faint hope that the summit may issue a more positive decision. Lithuanian Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, acknowledging his country’s lag in terms of meeting admission criteria, blamed not only the previous government of the center-left for wasting four years, but also the incumbent conservative government for not catching up fast enough.

The context of the EC’s decision suggests, for the first time, that admission depends not only on the candidate country’s merits, but just as much on the EU’s internal problems and politics. Some EU countries argue that admission of new countries should be postponed until the EU carries out its complex plans for institutional and financial reforms–that is, for years. Germany under its new, left-leaning government has suddenly turned from an engine into a brake on the EU’s enlargement. The Baltic states may soon experience Germany’s policy shift also on the issue of NATO’s enlargement. The Nordic countries remain leading advocates of the Baltic states in the EU, as they are in NATO (BNS, AFP, Reuters, November 4).