Wednesday 1 April 2009

EU: Enlargement fatigue?

The French and German governments have ruled out further expansion of the European Union without the Treaty of Lisbon in force. The German CDU calls for consolidation after the latest wave of accessions, although some member states want to press ahead regardless of the institutional fundamentals.

See for instance Deutsche Welle ‘France, Germany Bolt EU Doors to Western Balkans’ (28 March 2009).

The three candidate countries hanging in the balance are Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey, with the rest of the Western Balkans as potential candidates (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo).

Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn is unhappy if the accession countries are barred through no fault of their own. He has some reasons on his side: The EU member states have unanimously opened the negotiations, and they should conclude them in good faith.

But there are other questions to consider.

The frontiers of Europe have never been defined, and the whole expansion process has been conducted without considering the opinions of EU citizens or European identity. As long as the fundamentals are open, the enlargement policy rests on thin air.

In 2004 and 2007 the European Union expanded from 15 to 27 member states. Bulgaria and Romania can hardly be counted as success stories at this point, but more serious is the change of atmosphere. The EU has become ever more like an intergovernmental bazaar, instead of a political union.

The Treaty of Nice (agreed in December 2000, signed in 2001) barely managed to adapt to the technical requirements of the coming ‘big bang’ enlargement, but politically it was a disappointment. Later stages of treaty reform ─ Laeken, the European Convention, the Constitutional Treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon ─ have not yet led to conclusive results.

The Lisbon Treaty may be an improvement compared to the Treaty of Nice, but it does not create an effective or democratic union.

In my opinion, the main fault of the French and German governments is not that they put a brake on EU expansion, but that they do not envision reform beyond the limited Lisbon Treaty.

Ralf Grahn


  1. I am sympathetic to the point of view that there needs to be institutional reform before we admit new members. However, I do think that we should go ahead with the negotiations that have already been opened.

    On the question of the limits of Europe, well, it's still pretty vague, but I'm mostly for a Grosseuropa rather than a Kleineuropa.

  2. Eurocentric,

    I am not hostile to an extended Europe as such, but I find it a deadly combination as long as the unanimity rule is in force with regard to crucial aspects of EU development.

    There already are the pan-European Council of Europe and the OSCE, but they also show the limits of intergovernmental cooperation (with the exception of the ECHR and the Court of Human Rights).

    Croatia and Macedonia are well on their way, I admit that (if Greece does not sabotage Macedonia). Let us say that I am open to a discussion on where to draw the line (although nobody is asking me).

    Turkey has been losing so much steering power lately that it is hard to see when the negotiations could be concluded in the best of cases.


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