New ESI report - Beyond Enlargement Fatigue

24 April 2006

Enlargement at risk?

Dear friends of ESI,

Although the term is recent, the phenomenon of 'enlargement fatigue' is nearly as old as the European Union itself. Both enlargement enthusiasm and enlargement fatigue are recurring positions in the pendulum swings of European opinion.

In 1977, Francois Mitterrand, then the leading opposition politician in France, told a French magazine:

"One has to be careful not to turn the common market into a mere free trade zone. Neither Greece nor Spain are in a position to join the Community. Accession is neither in their interest nor is it in our interest. Interim steps are desirable."

Four years later, Francois Mitterrand was elected president of France. By the time he left the presidency in 1995, Greece, Spain and Portugal had been EU members for more than a decade, negotiations were completed with Austria, Finland and Sweden, and the first steps had been taken towards the admission of post-communist Central and Eastern Europe.

Since the spring of 2005, following the referenda in France and the Netherlands, debate on the drawbacks of enlargement has gained in intensity. Senior politicians across Europe are calling for a slow-down, freeze or even a permanent halt to enlargement. Voices opposing enlargement regularly make headlines, creating the impression that the future of enlargement is hanging in the balance.

Is the current debate truly a decisive break in a half century of European Union expansion, or just one of its periodic episodes of gloom and self-doubt? And is there a risk that enlargement fatigue becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, slowing down reforms and spreading instability on the European periphery?

To explore these questions, ESI is carrying out a series of studies on current debates on enlargement. The series begins with the Netherlands, and examines how Dutch attitudes on Turkey have developed since 1999. It will continue with studies of the enlargement debates in Austria, Germany, France and other EU members.

Beyond enlargement fatigue – the Dutch debate on Turkey

During the past 6 months a team of ESI analysts, led by Verena Ringler, undertook intensive research on the Dutch debate on Turkey in recent years.

The Netherlands has been one of the most consistent supporters of Turkey and its European Union membership aspirations. However, the recent Dutch debate on Turkish accession has taken place against a difficult background.

The country's economic growth came to a virtual halt in 2002. Pim Fortuyn rose to rapid prominence on an anti-immigration and anti-Islam platform, shattering many taboos before being assassinated in 2002. In November 2004, Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by an Islamist militant. In June 2005, the Dutch public rejected the proposed European Constitution by a large margin, despite the support of the country's political elite.

The Netherlands is central to understanding the European debate on the future of enlargement. According to Eurobarometer polls from autumn 2005, a majority of 55 percent of the Dutch population is opposed to Turkish accession. Yet despite the polls, Dutch politicians in both government and opposition have actively made a case to the electorate in favour of Turkish accession once the country meets European criteria.

This study suggests that the language of Dutch politicians, however guarded, is not the language of enlargement fatigue and that a similarly informed debate in other member states might swing the balance of opinion back towards a 'strict but fair' approach that leaves the door open to further enlargement on the basis of merit.

ESI in Washington DC

We are reinforcing our outreach effort in the United States. Kristina Hemon recently joined us as ESI representative in Washington DC.

For the past eight years Kristina has worked in the Balkans on rule of law and justice issues for the Office of the High Representative, International Crisis Group and the Council of Europe. She was born in Sarajevo and studied at the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics.

As always, we are looking forward to feedback and comments,

Best wishes,

Gerald Knaus