Should the EU suspend its enlargement? AEGEE

Between 1945 and 1959 the European cooperation began among states. On 18 April 1951 Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg signed the Treaty of Coal and Steel Cooperation. This date is accepted as the beginning of the European Community. 

At the same time, it is considered as the starting point for the enlargement process. Enlargement is a significant element of the European integration and the future of the European Community. So far, there have been six expansions, which made the EU much wider and to some extent deeper. From six member states, the EU has grown up to 28 states. All previous expansions had their positive and negative impacts. In debating about the borders of the EU, important questions arise. Where should the EU have its boundaries?

Continental Europe excludes islands such as Ireland, UK, Iceland, Malta and Cyprus. To the East, the borders are stretching up to the Ural Mountains. South-Eastern Europe ends with the Turkish, Georgian and Azerbaijani borderline. However, the European Union covers a large territory of continental Europe including all islands, it is excluding the majority of Balkan states, Ukraine and Belarus.  

Interpretations of enlargement

There are two interpretations of the EU enlargement: rationalist and constructivist. Regarding the constructivist interpretation, expansion is realized in close cooperation between a particular state and the EU. It is based on sharing norms and values.  If exchange of norms and values would take place then from a constructivist point of view, states would have it easier to identify their policies and agenda.

In case of the rationalist perspective, it does not explain reasons why current EU member states would accept new members. Funding poorer states would be justification for rationalists for their non-involvement in the process.

The process of enlargement

In 2010, the European Council agreed that the EU will continue its enlargement process up to the South-Eastern part of Europe (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Turkey). The Ministers stated that those countries will access the EU only in case if they fulfil the necessary EU norms, the so called Copenhagen criteria  which were agreed in 1993 by the European Council. Those are the following: 

stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; a functioning market economy, as well as the ability to cope with the pressure of competition and the market forces at work inside the Union; the ability to assume the obligations of membership, in particular adherence to the objectives of political, economic and monetary union.” (Adopted from European Commission Enlargement Web page) 

States can decide whether membership is beneficial for them or not, and whether to apply for it.

Any European country which respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law may apply to become a member of the Union. (Adopted from European Commission Enlargement Web page)

Accession criteria for the European club are enclosed in the Treaty on European Union under articles 6 and 49. Enlargement is a long and restricted process which’s speed depends on the progress that the candidate state is achieving and the pace it can accomplish the pre-determined requirements. 

Application form for joining the EU has to be submitted by the state to the European Council, which decides, after consultations with European Commission, whether to accept the application or not. If the answer is positive, then negotiations begin between the EU and the candidate. 

The effects of expansion

Enlargement brings advantages to the EU members. Mainly it stabilizes the economy, increases prosperity, expands the single market, improves cooperation against organized crime and trafficking. It provides the opportunity for the EU to become a more important player in the global area and to increase living standards.

Diverse labour market can be regarded as a positive aspect of enlargement, as it can help countries with labour shortages in some areas. Extending the borders of EU will also integrate the whole Europe socially as the "old continent" needs that after tremendous experience of the two World Wars.

Enlargement of the EU will always have positive and negative impacts. The degree of that will depend upon the scale of the expansion. The fifth enlargement process, the so called “Big Bang” created more jobs within EU institutions, most of them linguistic type. Additionally, the population of the EU increased remarkably.

In case of the economic impact, the EU began its economic cooperation with candidate states, especially with those from Eastern Europe, after 1990. Prior economic cooperation liberalized trade which, as a consequence, helped candidate states to cope internal demands. 

"Big Bang" states at time of accession have been achieving economic growth which was higher than in the EU15 countries. Those ones which joined in 2004 are growing faster than the former states. This can bring propitious development to accessing states. Along with the new market it will create more jobs. So far, standard of living in new member states have been improving and it becomes closer to the EU average.

The “Big Bang” enlargement of 2004 has proven to be successful. Fast growing Eastern economies gave a new dynamism to the European economy. The new members drilled into the EU system without any major problems. 

They decreased their socio-economic differences between them and the “old” members, and now some of them are key players within the EU. The process, at the same time, resulted in institutional changes. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council have been enlarged.

Enlargement was beneficial for the “old” members as their investors could find new investment opportunities on the territory of "fresh" members. However, the 2008 – 2009 global financial crisis had its impact on the recently joined countries’ economies. Positive economic growth remained, but due to the economic downturn, these states were affected by the crunch (e.g. Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia).

The enlargement in 2007 was not that successful, as Bulgaria and Romania did not match the EU norms when they joined the community and relaxed their reforming process.

Nevertheless, public opinion was not satisfied with those positive impacts, which might be a consequence of not publishing ongoing negotiations between the states and the EU. Before the 2004 enlargement the opinion poll showed that almost half of the EU population supported enlargement, whereas after the “Big Bang”, this ratio decreased. Although, in 2009, regarding the Eurobarometer 257, 66% of the EU citizens believed that enlargement has made the Union more difficult to manage.

Opening up the gates for newcomers

The geographical definition of Europe is to be omitted by political and economic considerations. If states meet all the required criteria for membership, the Union should not exclude those from accession, which are firmly European. 

In 1950, Robert Schuman said during his famous speech that the European Community is open to every European country which would like to join the European family. Since the 1980’s, each enlargement has brought benefits to the EU club. For instance, Austria, Finland and Sweden imported them into the EU economies at an advanced level, which boosted for hitherto prevailing members. 

Enlagerment has made the EU an important global actor. Moreover, it created the opportunity for its members to make deals with states from outside Europe. The 2004 “Big Bang” helped to overcome the East-West political and social division. It enabled to provide stability and security among the European states.

Regarding the Balkans, there are some persistent complications, which hinder the accession. In this region risks endangering the enlargement proceedings occur, such as the economic crisis, problems with the rule of law and the issue of “statelessness”. Their economies faced a negative growth in 2009. 

There is a pressure on the EU to give much higher financial assistance, as it might have consequences on the social crisis. Moreover, those states are extremely dependent upon the external stimulus. The lack of rule of law, the present corruption, crime, weak jurisdiction and administration are obstacles on the way of accession.  Crises in Bosnia and Kosovo are signalling the instability of the region.

Currently, there are four countries which have candidate status. They are the following; Turkey, Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Iceland.

How could the EU benefit from Balkan growth?

For the European Union, enlargement towards this direction could be beneficial much more than previous enlargements. It would bring wider stability and security which is the major aim of the EU. Moreover, it would help to democratize states where it is needed and it would establish a political identity in them. Additionally, it would have a huge impact on the economy as the single market would become wider. In the Balkan region and Turkey, instability quite often appears which could affect the EU.

The EU realized that democratization and economic development would stabilize these particular regions. Enlargement will expand the single market as the accessing countries would have to adopt single market legislation. Cheap and skilled labour would appear in the market and the increase in natural resources would improve the competitiveness of the Union in relation to the US or China. In addition, it could strengthen the position of the EU within the global arena. It could then influence the international economic system much more than it was able to do so far.

Enlargement process did not make any major damage for the EU. In contrary, it benefited all member states. European Union should not stop its enlargement as it could lose too much in terms of economy, security and society. 

The main aim of the European Union is to unite European states. The Enlargement up to the continental borders is necessary and the future proceedings should take place. However, with exception of Russia, which is obvious, and so far Belarus, due to its political situation.

Enlargement process at best should remain a slow process, so all the disputes will find their end and states could develop their economies and modernize their structures. Finally, the EU should be stricter about the Copenhagen norms of accession to avoid mistakes similar to those of 2007. 

If you found this article interesting, maybe you would enjoy to read the following publication about expansion: http://one-europe.info/a-balkan-expansion-which-are-the-next-countries-to-join-the-eu