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In 1998, the European Union (EU) entered into negotiations with Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia concerning the enlargement of the Union. At the end of 1999, the European Commission decided that six other countries could join the negotiations in 2000 (Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Malta and Romania), and it was suggested that a decision concerning the date of membership would be taken in 2002 for these applicants fulfilling all the criteria. Many questions still remain on both sides, in particular regarding institutional reform of the EU (Festoc, 1998), and the ability of the Central and Eastern European countries to adopt the “acquis”.

In this article, we shall evaluate the ways in which the Central European countries (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — the CECs) have already integrated to the Western European economy, using trade data over the last ten years. First, we show that since the beginning of the transition, a feature of the foreign trade of the CECs has been a strong reorientation from East to West, in particular to Germany, together with a rapid growth in trade between the EU and the CECs. Second, we describe the trade structure, focussed on foreign direct investment as a mean of developing new exports. The third and fourth sections study the development of the specialisations of the CECs and the nature of trade between the CECs and the EU respectively.

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