There have certainly been better times for EU enlargement. Today, rather than concentrate on its expansion, the EU is preoccupied with a number of other challenges, from the economic-cum-fiscal-debt crisis, to the revolutions in the Arab world, to military missions old and new.
Not only has EU enlargement been placed on the back burner; for more than half of the South East European aspirants, the process is practically stuck. Macedonia was given the green light for accession negotiations by the European Commission, but finds its path blocked by Greece, which objects to the country’s official name. Bosnia cannot really move forward on account of its protectorate status, which a number of countries, including the US and the UK, are unwilling to change. Kosovo, the other Balkan protectorate, is in an even worse position. Given that the EU cannot treat Kosovo as a state – five of its members do not recognise it as such – any formal progress is extremely difficult. Albania, mocking basic European democratic standards, is essentially blocking itself. Serbia has received candidate status earlier this year, but it is unclear when accession talks can start. Turkey’s negotiations are moving very slowly. Read more …
There are many reasons, therefore, for observers to be sceptical and for candidates to be disappointed. But there are also good reasons for not giving over to defeatism.
Croatia has managed to finalise accession negotiations in mid-2011 and is set to become the EU’s 28th member state on 1 July 2013. This shows that – provided there is a willingness for hard work and courageous political decisions – even in the current circumstances one can succeed. Prospects also look good for Montenegro, which has just opened accession negotiations on 29 June 2012.
On the side of the EU, not everyone has lost the belief in further enlargement. While few EU member states are currently pushing the enlargement agenda forward, a large majority – including virtually all the new member states, but also old ones like the UK, Sweden, Austria and Greece – are still in favour. Others are agnostic. The outright opponents are in a clear minority.
Moreover, the fact that most countries face obstacles not directly related to the accession criteria means that such obstacles are temporary and can be overcome. If Greece were to let Macedonia open negotiations as FYRoM, it is unlikely, especially given the Commission’s endorsement, that any other country would step in to block Skopje’s path. If Bosnian politicians found the courage, they could submit an official membership application now. If Serbia’s new political leadership found a more pragmatic approach towards Kosovo, the country could move quickly to start accession negotiations. Together with the start of accession talks with Montenegro, one more such development could turn around the pessimistic mood and give a considerable boost to the – currently tainted – credibility of the accession process.
Finally, there have always been ups and downs in the long history of enlargement. These range from De Gaulle’s famous veto against UK membership to Italy’s blockage of an association agreement with Austria over the South Tyrol question, to letting Malta and Cyprus wait three years for an opinion on their application – not to speak of the EU’s initial hesitation about Eastern enlargement. Moments of hesitation and reflection have always been followed by a more proactive phase. Given the scope and size of the European project – a united Europe that stretches from the northern tip of Finland to Malta and from Portugal to Turkey – it should come as no surprise that caution and indecision sometimes rule the day.
Debating the benefits, but also the risks and challenges, of further enlargement is crucial for it to succeed. In times like these, it is particularly important.
It is the aim of this site to contribute to this debate – by offering analysis on challenges and opportunities related to enlargement, providing manuals to how this issue is debated in various EU member states, and presenting new thinking on enlargement. The site also offers plenty of background material, including profiles of key people working on enlargement, a document library, and information on the accession process of individual countries. ESI will also welcome outside suggestions. If you have any, please get in touch with us.
New ESI Portrait: Ivo Sanader