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European Union Divided

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European Union Divided

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Foreign policy-the face that a nation presents to the rest of the world-has become a "nightmare" for the EU, as consensus becomes more difficult in the new 25-state bloc, and new members use their weight to settle old scores, particularly with non-EU neighbors. "It has always been difficult reaching consensus among the old 15 countries," said one EU diplomat who asked not to be named. "But this time it is different."

For example, as Judy Dempsey reported in The International Herald Tribune, Croatia (an EU candidate) and Slovenia (an EU member), two neighbors in former Yugoslavia, were involved in a bitter fight last month when police from one state arrested the citizens of the other in a town that lies along a disputed border. The quarrel escalated to the point of the outgoing Prime Minister of Slovenia threatening Croatia with the withdrawal of their support for EU membership. Only after sharp words from the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to the effect that Brussels should not be used to settle bilateral problems, did the situation settle down.

In another instance, Hungary (an EU member) is using Brussels to mediate a dispute with Serbia, which itself has intentions to move closer to the EU. Hungary has claimed that atrocities have been committed against ethnic Hungarians in the Serb-controlled province of Vojvodina. "Yes, there has been some violence, but not atrocities," said another EU diplomat. "Budapest and Belgrade have to talk to each other."

An article in The Economist went further, presenting the current division against the history, achievements so far, and the general goals of the EU: ".many of the most ardent believers in the creation of a European federation see enlargement as an unwelcome distraction from the EU's most urgent business: to develop into a real political union." The article goes on to point out that the great peace and prosperity, especially in western Europe, along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, has made deep political integration in the EU less urgent-to the point that in several member-states, attempts have been thus far resisted as the people hold to deep national traditions. The success of enlargement has also increased the number of political opinions, thus making a "one voice" particularly difficult to find. However, a continental or international crisis would quickly change that.

The Economist went on to conclude that a split in the EU is likely - sometime in the next 12 to 24 months as eleven of the 25 nations hold referendums on accepting the new European Constitution. In a few of these, most notably Britain, the vote is likely to be negative. The writers maintained that a split would not necessarily be a bad event. However, they were wise enough to present one possible outcome in conclusion: "But there is also a darker, if less likely possibility. A split in the EU could cause Europe once again to divide into rival power blocks. That could threaten what most agree is the Union's central achievement: peace in Europe."

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