In the nal decade of the twentieth century, the Continent of Europe was no longer the epicentre of the Cold War, which nally ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991. Great cities like Prague and Warsaw, previously shut off by the ‘Iron Curtain’, suddenly became as accessible to westerners as Paris and London. As the political divisions melted away, so the prospects of economic convergence between the western and eastern parts of Europe were never brighter. A major fulcrum for this was the European Union (EU). It faced a wave of applications to join its ranks from former Soviet satellites anxious to cement their democratic free market credentials and sought to bind the majority of its existing members closer together and enhance economic performance through the muchvaunted single market and single currency projects. At the same time, Europe was confronted with a panoply of problems, not least the persistence of high unemployment, escalating welfare costs, overregulation in some countries and a dismal start for the euro, which, by the time the new millennium dawned, had signi - cantly depreciated against other major currencies.