ACCUSED OF dragging its feet on the applications of 13 poorer nations of Central and Eastern Europe to join the rich nations' club of Western Europe, the European Union's executive commission dragged its feet.
It told the 13 to clean up their acts and be more prosperous, capitalistic and democratic. They are all being considered, of course, but while the document said maybe by the end of 2002, officials were whispering 2005.
The real trouble is not with the applicants but the club. The European Union is still digesting its poorer Mediterranean members. It is trying to integrate the 11 members of the club's inner group, or monetary union, with the four outside. And it is still desperate to inspire confidence in that group's common currency, the euro.
The Czech Republic sees itself at the head of the list of potential new members. Poland is told to rationalize its agriculture. Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus are still upbeat. Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and Malta are hoping to catch up. Bulgaria and Romania are just too poor, and Turkey is told to improve its human rights.
More realistically, Greece will blackball Turkey as long as they dispute Cyprus and the Aegean seabed. Turkey appears just too Islamic for this club of Christendom, which disingenuously denounces Turkey for suppressing Islam.
The EU is really addressing its own growing pains first, including disputes over mad cow disease and beef exports but above all, the disappointing euro.
When it gets that right, and when a single monetary policy makes equal sense for sluggish Germany and booming Ireland, the wealthier and more democratic applicants will be hustled in. Not before.