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Walker\'s World: Europe mission impossible

OpinionsLONDON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- The wintry air of Denmark\'s capital, Copenhagen, has been thick these recent days with self-congratulation, as the European Union\'s 15 rich and democratic nations formally embraced ten new member states from Central and Eastern Europe. Condolences might have been more suitable, for it will be a long, long time before the world ever talks of the \"rich\" EU again.

The 10 new members have a combined population of 75 million, but a combined GDP of just $338 billion -- less than that of Holland. The EU is increasing its population by almost a quarter, but increasing its wealth by just 4 percent.

The EU\'s GDP per head last week was around $25,000, close to that of the United States. The new, enlarged EU\'s GDP per head next week will be just $20,000 -- uncomfortably close to that of South Korea.

The Western Europeans will not suddenly become poor. But they will face an obligation, stretching out for at last a generation to come, to share their prosperity and their opportunities, their investment and their available jobs, with the much poorer people who are now their fellow Europeans.

The EU will be in the development business for a long time to come. It is as though Mexico had suddenly been welcomed into the U.S.A. And the essential rules of the EU on the free movement of goods, capital and labor means that all 80 million Mexicans would have the right to live, work, invest and settle wherever they chose.

Europe already has one model for this daunting task, and it is not a happy one. Thirteen years ago, the Berlin Wall came down, and the poor and Communist-run East was merged with the rich and democratic West Germany. Few countries could have been as generous as the West Germans. In direct aid, state investments, welfare payments and pensions, the 63 million West Germans have pumped almost one trillion dollars, $1,000 billion, into the heroic effort to haul the 17 million East Germans up to their standard of living.

Maybe it is too soon to tell, but so far the grand project of unification looks to have been a failure, dragging down the once mighty West German economy to the point where it is now routinely described as \"the sick man of Europe.\" And the East has not greatly benefited.

Last month, Germany\'s Federal Statistics Office published a survey of emigration to the West from the richest and most modernized part of the East, the state of Saxony. It found that emigration was running at close to 1,500 a week, and most of them were young people ages 18-30, with above-average qualifications. This is the same level of emigration that East Germany was experiencing in 1961, a brain drain and youth drain that provoked Walter Ulbricht\'s Communist regime to build the Berlin Wall to block the flow.

With luck, the EU will learn from Germany\'s historic and well-intentioned mistake. Indeed, the EU has already resolved to limit the amount of aid it bestows on the poorer countries to no more than 5 percent of their GDP, claiming that any greater sum would distort their economies.

What they don\'t say, except in private, is that any greater sum would be politically intolerable for their taxpaying voters. The West German government\'s sentimental appeal to national \"solidarity\" (the name they gave to a special \"unification\" tax of 5 percent) will not work with Spaniards or Greeks suddenly asked to fork out vast sums for Latvians, Slovaks and other countries that few Europeans could place on the map.

In the long run, this enlargement should be a bracing shot in the arm for the EU\'s sluggish economy. It may take 30 years to bring the new members up to EU living standards, but that will mean a market that is currently worth $338 billion exploding to become a market worth over $1,200 billion. Except that along the way, the EU is not committed to take in a least 2 new, even poorer countries, Romania and Bulgaria. And at some point in the next 20 years, it looks as though it will embrace the 80 million inhabitants of Turkey, and beyond that loom the 50 million Ukrainians.

For the next 50 years, if their voters and politicians can sustain the costs of this noble effort, the EU\'s energies will be focused overwhelmingly on this gigantic internal challenge. Forget the grandiose dreams of Brussels about an EU foreign policy, or an independent EU defense force that would make Europe \"a counterweight\" to the United States. There will be neither resources nor appetite for anything beyond the poor and hungry cuckoos that have been welcomed into the EU\'s nest.

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