ON MARCH 25th 1957, with the shadow of the second world war still hanging over them, six European countries signed the founding treaty of a new sort of international club. The European Union, as the club came to be called, achieved success on a scale its founders could barely have imagined, not only underpinning peace on the continent but creating a single market as well as a single currency, and bringing into its fold ex-dictatorships to the south and ex-communist countries to the east, as it expanded from six members to 28. Yet even as today’s European leaders gather in Rome this weekend to celebrate the 60th anniversary, they know their project is in big trouble.

source: Can Europe be saved?

I read this paragraph in this week's The Economist. Could somebody explains the bold part for me? I don't get it since I don't quite know European history. And in this case, as I understand, "bring into" seems to mean "take into", am I right?

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    All it is saying is that countries that formerly had fascist (e.g. Italy), or communist dictatorships (e.g. Lithuania or former soviet dominated areas) are now part of a union of democratic states. Its meant to highlight the success of the EU as a project, bringing in countries with disparate government styles and histories – mstorkson Mar 24 '17 at 13:12
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    The word fold has the literal meaning a flock of sheep (or an enclosure for them). In the above context this is metaphorically extended to a group of people or institutions that share a common faith, belief, activity, or enthusiasm. Note that this metaphoric sense is common in religious contexts (the faithful congregation are a pastor's flock, whom he encourages to join his fold in church). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 24 '17 at 13:21
  • Italy is irrelevant here. Italy was a founding member of the EEC/EU. You can't bring a founding member into the fold. You can only bring new members into the fold. So Mobeer is correct in his answer - "ex-dictatorships to the south" is a reference to Spain, Portugal, and Greece, not to Italy. – rjpond Sep 12 '17 at 18:58

The original six countries were all western European democracies. The organisation they founded has managed to add ("bringing into its fold") many countries with different histories to those original 6 without falling apart. Referring to this achievement in the article is meant to highlight the ability of the EU to change and adapt over time.

Example southern dictatorships:

  • Portugal (dictatorship until 1976, joined in 1986)
  • Spain (dictatorship until 1978, joined in 1986)
  • Greece (dictatorship until 1974, joined in 1981)

Example former eastern communist nations

  • Poland joined 2004
  • Romania joined 2007

As regards "bring into" vs. "take into", probably either could be used here interchangeably.

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A "sheepfold" is a somewhat archaic word for a pen which sheep are kept in. In modern use, it's mostly used as a metaphor (though I think it is also still used by actual sheep farmers, that use probably counts as jargon).

"To bring [something] into the fold" evokes a shepherd rounding up stray sheep, and putting them into a pen with the rest of the flock. It has connotations of safety and community, but also of paternalism. It also has strong religious connotations, due to the pervasive metaphor of Jesus as a shepherd and Christianity as his flock. (See e.g. the 23rd Psalm)

When this article says that those countries have been "brought into the fold," it means that they have joined the community (in this case the EU), and implies that they have adopted some key values of the community.

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