Occasionally the English-language press likes to visit the newer democracies of the 2004 EU expansion and critique the lack of reform they find in its governments. In this week's The Economist, a conversation about Brits in Bratislava veers into familiar territory:
"From the Baltics to the Balkans there is not one strong reformist government. Some are smug, do-nothing coalitions (Estonia and Slovenia), or prickly and ineffective (Poland) or powerless minority governments (Lithuania, Czech Republic), or sleazy and unscrupulous (Hungary, Latvia)," the news journal writes.
While it's cute to pretend that there still is a meaningful east-west division in the European Union, the problem with constructing a worldview that presents the good, reformist, stable West against the struggling, corrupt, unstable East, is that neither region of Europe can live up to its stereotype.
Eastern European democracies may be comparably newer, but not by that much. For example, the current Estonian constitution is *based on the 1938 constitution*, but the current French constitution is 20 years younger. Yes, I know that the Estonian constitution continued in the most legal of manners - in exile - from 1944 through 1991, but still, it's false to assume that all former communist countries started from scratch in 1991 and that they should be collectively mentored by their wiser Western neighbors.
Nor are newer EU countries any more corrupt than older EU members like Italy, and Greece. In the 2006 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Estonia ranked in at 24, ahead of "older" Western democracies like Portugal, Italy, and Greece.
And how long have those countries been democratic? In Spain, democracy returned in 1975 with the death of Francisco Franco. Portugal similarly was ruled by António de Oliveira Salazar's regime until the mid-1970s. Those were fascist governments replaced by democratic ones, in a manner similar to the way that communist governments were replaced by democratic ones in the late 1980s - by *mostly* bloodless revolution. Yet our trusty Economist reporter didn't head off to talk about the need for reform in Rome or Lisbon.
Therefore, my question is this: Why don't conferences about the need for reformist European governments include discussions on older members that could also benefit from reform? Why do people focus on the region "from the Baltics to the Balkans" when the European Union as a whole presents a far more inclusive category for lumping various countries together and discussing their shortcomings. Why do some people insist on carving Europe into East and West when it's clear that Europe as a whole suffers from similar problems that transcend Cold War geography?