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Introduced by Eric Elstob on 16 January 1998
The speaker is a businessman who has travelled extensively in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War and has published a book on his experiences. After noting that some young people there do not now recall the communist past, he reviewed the present condition of each of the countries in three categories - the more developed (those most likely to be invited to join the EU), the ‘chaotic’ Balkans ,and the Russia / Ukraine complex.
The first group is, in general, developing steadily; the second has always been relatively undeveloped and without a middle class; the third is very rich in resources and, although mismanagement has caused ecological ruin and few pay taxes, affluence is now spreading.
The speaker made two major observations in conclusion - basic reform of the EU, especially of the Common Agricultural Policy, must occur when Eastern European countries join, and we should respond to their pro-Western stance through exports and visits.
In discussion, he stressed the importance both of the general use of the German language and of growing Slav influence. He thought that recognition of cultural histories would sustain regional cultures against foreign influences. The need for social and legal structures for the creation of economic efficiency would reduce crime. Although fragmented economies are likely, the availability of modern technologies should enable some countries to ‘leapfrog’ into the next century. For example, many are now installing telephone systems extensively for the first time and these are the most modern types, unlike the Western systems which have developed over the years.
In general, he was optimistic for a unified Europe, where interchange of peoples and goods should benefit all; the economic threats of a global economy are more alarming.