In conversation: Eastern Europe

Sunday 20 October, 3.30pm until 4.45pm, Pit Theatre Wrestling with the World

It is not just the old member states of the EU that are suffering in the European crisis. As well as in Portugal, Greece and Spain, there is considerable discontent in the new member states further to the East. Hungarians and Bulgarians have been on the streets to protest against austerity and corruption. Last year the Romanian government was mired in scandal. Even Poland – maybe the most successfully integrated of the eastern economies – is heavily reliant on EU infrastructural spending and the German ‘halo effect’. For most of these countries, joining the European free market can hardly be described as a great economic boon, so little wonder maybe there is talk of a ‘transition backlash’ and the parallel growth of political extremism and disillusionment from Tallinn to Tirana. What alternatives are on the table?

Although the old divide between West and East seems to have persisted, with Western hostility to further immigration and disdain for any form of politics of national renewal such as have been seen in Hungary, there does also appear to be a differentiation made between eastern countries. Some – like Poland, the Czech Republic and Croatia – are seen as setting a better example than others: more West-Eastern rather than East-Eastern. The rest are told to try harder, try another year. Why though should closer integration into the EU be the only game in town? Why does Poland say it’s the EU or war? Especially when membership comes at such a high price in terms of financial austerity and political conformity to the diktats of the Brussels bureaucracy. What awaits Croatia, which became the newest member state this summer, and the other former Yugoslav states waiting to join? As comfortable a place at the conference table and as much independence as Cyprus now enjoys? Will the new member states turn away from the EU and look for other opportunities, political and economic? With all the discontents associated with the EU, and with native political elites, is there a will in Eastern Europe to take a different road? And, if there is, might it lead in a positive direction or take a turn for the worse?

Dr Othon Anastasakis
director, European Studies Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford; director, South East European Studies at Oxford

František Havlín
project manager, Czech NGO Agora CE

Eszter Salgó
adjunct professor, international relations, American University of Rome

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No

Dr Tara McCormack
lecturer in international politics, University of Leicester; author, Critique, Security and Power: the political limits to emancipatory approaches

Produced by
Dr Tara McCormack lecturer in international politics, University of Leicester; author, Critique, Security and Power: the political limits to emancipatory approaches
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