The Enlargement of the European Union:
An essay about the issue of expanding the borders of
EU to include Eastern European states and beyond.

                                                              

 

Peter Engholm

Monash University, 1998

 

 

 

ABSTRACT:

This paper tries to shed some light on the consequences of a larger European integration, and looks at whether a seemingly limitless expansion of the Union’s border to the East is supported by its member-states. This is done by discussing the steps taken by the European Union towards further integration during the last couple of years, and looking at potential benefits and problems with bringing the applicant nations into the community. The paper also looks at whether there is a limit to the expansion of the borders of EU, or whether countries, such as Russia, may be a candidate in a not too distant future.

KEYWORDS:

Europe, enlargement, European Union, expansion, Russia, Eastern Europe

 

FULL TEXT:

INTRODUCTION

Europe is facing a new Millenium with perhaps more uncertainty than ever before in history. The end of communism destroyed the political barriers that divided Europe, which has given rise to new opportunities - but also threats - in the task of building a new united Europe based on a free market structure, political security and global peace. By inviting the Central and East European Countries (CEEC) to join the European Union, it is entering uncharted waters at high stakes. The widely existing euphoria over what positive effects this could (and even should) give rise to, may well be replaced by utter despair and total disaster if reality chooses to move along a completely different path than is expected.

Europe is looking for deepening its economic security by establishing and implementing the European Monetary Union (EMU) at the same time it is looking for widening its geographic borders to include the former Soviet Union satellite-countries in the East. These countries are in the midst of a transition from being ruled by a central administered communist system to creations of true democracies, emphasizing human rights and embracing the economic and social views of their Western neighbours. Is it possible for these two objectives of the European Union to peacefully walk hand-in-hand? Is it the general perception among the member-states of the EU that they should?

This paper tries to shed some light on the consequences of a larger European integration, and looks at whether a seemingly limitless expansion of the Union’s border to the East is supported by its member-states. This is done by discussing the steps taken by the European Union towards further integration during the last couple of years, and looking at potential benefits and problems with bringing the applicant nations into the community. Contemporary research papers and surveys, mainly published on the Internet, is used to present opinions among the member-states about the enlargement process.

The paper also looks at whether there is a limit to the expansion of the borders of EU, or whether countries, such as Russia, may be a candidate in a not too distant future. The conclusion then sums up the discussion and gives answers to the main questions.

 

BACKGROUND

In 1957, the leaders of France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg gathered together in Rome and signed a treaty for the establishment of the European Economic Community. It has since then transformed itself to become the European Union - the world’s largest trading block with fifteen members at present.

The foundation of the Community was Western Europe’s response to the trauma of nationalism and two world wars with an aim to create such an intensity of cooperation that another war would become unthinkable[1]. Although article 237 of the treaty stated that “any European State may apply to become a member”[2], it was hardly the case that the former communist states were considered possible candidates. Europe had been divided into two political blocks after World War II, and the discussion about also inviting the Eastern European countries into the Community did not become a serious issue until after the revolutions of 1989, following the fall of communism. But when it did, it did with enormous pace and commitment. For the former communist-ruled countries - cut off from the West for a half century - EU membership offers the possibility of returning to Europe, embracing its political and economical ideology which seems to work well.

Meetings of the European Council

In June 1993, the European Council met in Copenhagen and concluded that any country in Central and Eastern Europe may become a member of the Union, if it so desires and is able to satisfy the following requirements of membership:

§         The achievement of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;

§         The existence of a functioning market economy, as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union, and;

§         The ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union[3].

These criteria were emphasized and further developed at the Council’s meeting in Madrid, 1995, which concluded that enlargement was both a political necessity and a historic opportunity for Europe. But the Council also referred to the need to create conditions for progressive and smooth integration of applicant countries. It instructed the European Commission to prepare a number of reports and other documents in relation to enlargement, especially detailed studies about the effect of enlargement on EU’s agricultural and regional policy. The Commission was also instructed to assess the applicant states’ capacity and ability to adhere to the set requirements for EU membership[4].

Agenda 2000

At the beginning of his mandate in 1995, President Jacques Santer set his European Commission two fundamental objectives: strengthening the Union and preparing enlargement. In July 1997, he presented Agenda 2000 to the European Parliament - a detailed strategy for strengthening and widening the Union in the early years of the 21st century. The agenda assessed the preparedness for membership of the ten applicant countries, and recommended that accession negotiations should start with Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The remaining five aspiring nations Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia should be invited into partnerships with the EU to help speed up their preparations for membership according to the set requirements in the Copenhagen 1993 summit[5].

Officially, the candidate countries are all politically equal in the eyes of the Union, and the opinion of the EU is that all will join the Union - but the question is how to best engineer it. Thus, the European Commission decided that it would be better to start with countries that are more advanced, and then gradually help the others to prepare for enlargement and the negotiations that eventually will come[6].

This map[7] shows the current geographic boun­daries of EU, with the aspiring countries shaded. Norway and Switzerland have both recently rejected full membership due to a majority of their popu­lation saying ‘no’ in held referendums.

Malta, Turkey and Cyprus are special cases - handled separately by the EU.

The table below sums up the Commission’s evaluation of the candidate countries. It shows that the five European countries that were selected for the first process of enlargement are at the moment better prepared to take on the obligations of membership:

Table 1:

Summary of the ten candidate countries present situation and ability to adhere to requirements for membership in the EU, according to the set requirements in the Copenhagen 1992 summit[8]:

. = Not well prepared, ... = Well prepared

 

Hungary

Poland

Romania

Slovakia

Latvia

Lithuania

Bulgaria

Czech Rep.

Slovenia

Estonia

Stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities

...

...

..

.

...

...

..

...

...

...

The existence of a functioning market economy, capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union

...

...

..

..

..

..

.

...

...

...

Ability to take on the obligations of membership, adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union

...

..

.

.

.

.

.

...

..

..

Summary:

Chosen for first round negotiations (Y/N):

9

Y

8

Y

5

N

4

N

6

N

6

N

4

N

9

Y

8

Y

8

Y

 

And the dice is cast…

The meeting of the Council in Luxembourg, December 1997, finally decided that the EU should start negotiations with Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia in the beginning of 1998. It also decided to set up a European conference, bringing together the member-states of EU and the ten aspiring countries including Malta, Turkey and Cyprus, to enhance the accession process[9].

The duration of the accession negotiations is difficult to predict, but the earliest realistic possibility for the next enlargement would be in the years immediately following 2000. The aspiring countries excluded from the first round of accession might have to wait until year 2010 before all membership issues are resolved[10]. But then, if everything goes according to the plans, the European states would be united for the first time in history.

 

BENEFITS AND PROBLEMS

Agenda 2000 concludes that enlargement will bring considerable political and economic advantages, but the differences between member-states will be more marked and adjustments in economic sectors and regions will need to be well prepared[11]. It is generally agreed that the aspiring countries have more to gain of a membership. Not only can EU offer them the benefits of a large single market and generous subsidies, it can also help secure much-needed economic reforms that will bring economic growth. Joining the EU also means passing the political tests of democracy and respect for human rights and minorities. After decades of poverty and political unrest, the eastern European countries may finally find rest in the bond with their more developed Western neighbours.

For Europe as a whole, enlargement could extend the zone of stability, thus contributing to security and peace throughout the whole continent. The single market will be extended from 370 million to some 480 million consumers, which should stimulate economic growth and provide new opportunities for businesses. A united Europe would also carry a greater weight in world affairs and be a stronger partner in international trade negotiations[12].

Looking at what particular countries can contribute with upon membership to EU, Cyprus is a small but interesting aspirant. Its geographical strategic position in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean could make it serve as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East - an area that is becoming an increasingly important market. To cite the writer of the Special European Report for Lobby of Cyprus, “Cyprus thus [as a member] becomes a bastion for Europe, a bastion so valuable that if it did not exist, Europe would have to invent it”[13].

The access to Eastern Europe should increase cultural diversity within EU and be a source of new creativity and understanding. As the aspiring countries develop further, Europe may well find itself be the best region in the next millenium to offer prosperity, security and peace. This is what EU hopes will be the outcome of the enlargement - a challenge and an opportunity that many believe is too good to miss out on.

Of course, there are also many threats and uncertainties involved in the process of enlargement. Josef Joffe argues that EU, if the worst-case scenario comes true, “might end up like Mike Tyson in his hapless comeback attempt against Evander Holyfield. Tyson had literally bitten off too much, and (…) was disqualified.”

Joffe sees the simultaneous EU policies of “deepening” and “widening” as contradictory in themselves. He argues that reality says that you cannot “deepen” and “widen” all at once, defining “deepening” as having to do with fusing many sovereignties into one (e.g. the Monetary Union and economic policy of EU), and “widening” as bringing in more national wills (enlargement). According to him, the member-states of the EU have “behaved as sagely as two-year-olds who think that the world disappears when they clap their hands over their eyes”. This is a rather radical negative view of the EU and its visions. Joffe seems to believe that just because some more underdeveloped countries (compared to the present member-states) joins the Union, other processes would come to a halt. It is true, that the EU has lots of work to do the next couple of years, but if it were incapable of making as good decisions as possible, the EU would never have become what it is today. The saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained” certainly is true in the case of the expansion of the European Union. Joffe also acknowledge that this is not a new problem in the annals of European integration, and that although he is raising important problematic issues in his article, history says that “Europe has always lumbered on, growing stronger and larger with each faltering step[14].

The enlargement will also involve an increase in EU budget expenditures, especially of the EU’s agricultural and structural funds. Some 520 million euro will be given each year to help applicant states restructuring their agricultural sectors. In addition, a further 1,040 million euro will be allocated every year from the Union’s regional fund to help develop the countries’ basic infrastructure. These are certainly big figures, but the Union claims that it can be financed from the savings that should result from the present round of member-states’ policy reforms and the regular budgetary contributions of all member-states, including the newcomers[15].

A more practical problem is that the EU has to make institutional changes to meet the desire of a more efficient, effective and democratic decision-making. Although it is not yet fully decided what changes need to be made, the Amsterdam Treaty is the first step towards resolving this issue[16].

Economically and practically, the member-states seem to gain from enlargement. Still, there is a big debate about it, and the recent held referendums about the Amsterdam Treaty in Ireland and Denmark (where some 40 percent voted against accepting the Treaty), show that lot of people is skeptical to further enlargement. This essay will now examine the reasons why, and whether further enlargement is the will of the institution of EU or the will of the people it is supposed to represent.

 

OPINIONS ABOUT ENLARGEMENT

General opinions

All Union member-states have, in principle, expressed support for enlargement, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Equally, attitudes and reasons for supporting enlargement to the east vary greatly.

The German government has expressed strong support for enlargement to the east. One main reason may be that it does not want to keep on forming the boundary between East and West. Germany borders to nine countries, out of which three are not Union members. Thus, Germany is especially keen on that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary is in the first accession group. On the other hand, it is not keen to pay much more of its EU budget, which accounted for 22 billion DM in 1995.

Germany is also the country in Western Europe that may feel the strongest moral obligation towards further European integration. Haunted by the memories of the strife for “Das dritte Reich”, the time has now come to erase all negative feelings about Germany by being in the front line of creating a united multi-cultural Europe. But then again: if the EU expenditures and unemployment increase too much due to the enlargement process, Germany is likely to take a less enthusiastic stance. Still, as Central and Eastern Europe biggest trading partner, Germany should realize that future benefits might only be gained by initial sacrifices in its finance.

France is also in favour of enlargement - in principle. But France fear that the process towards tighter European integration could, as a result of enlargement, come to a standstill or that the Union might deteriorate into simply a single market[17].

The Nordic countries especially want the Baltic States to join the EU. Carl Bildt, the Swedish premier from 1991 to 1994, sees EU enlargement as a means of rectifying the under-performance of the Swedish economy, which has declined since 1990. Finland, on the other hand, expects EU membership to open up new economic relationships to offset the loss of its ‘special economic relationship’ with the former USSR, whose collapse caused a 15 percent contraction of the Finnish economy between 1991 and 1993[18].

Generally speaking, the stronger Western European countries are all for enlargement, although their preferences of what countries should be prioritized in the first accession differ. As far as the Mediterranean members of the EU are concerned - Greece, Spain and Portugal in particular - enlargement would mean substantial decreases in subsidies. In these countries the support may not be so strong if the enlargement shows to negatively affect their economies. The question is then whether they are willing to help the aspiring countries, as becoming members of the EU once helped them.

Individual opinions

As the European Union is representing the people in its member-states, it is more important to look at individual citizens’ opinions about enlargement, instead of those of their governments’. Austria, for example, borders to five countries out of which tree - Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic - are now applying for membership. Most Austrians, polls say, fear that the expansion will affect Austria negatively, with increased crime and competition as a result of easterners coming and offering cheap and easy labour. One Austrian politician has warned that 200,000 of these easterners would migrate into his region every year if the EU expanded unchecked[19].

Thus, while governments tend to look at the ‘bigger picture’, its citizens seem to fear the more short-term effects of enlargement, such as crime, fewer jobs and overpopulation. The uncertainties of what opened borders to the East will bring about seem to both frighten and challenge citizens. This is clearly seen in a study about the Finnish people’s opinions, undertaken in the autumn of 1997[20]:

The study shows that uncertainty and reluctance characterizes the Finnish opinion of the next stage of enlargement. In people’s minds, the most probable consequences are what are deemed to be negative. The exception is the enrichment of culture.

Table 2 shows the opinion barometer in different questions relating to EU enlargement. It clearly shows that people are mostly concerned about membership fees, increased mobile labour (as with Austrian reluctance) and decreased competitiveness within Finnish agriculture. Maybe the most surprising result of the survey is that only some 20 percent of the Finnish people believe that enlargement would increase economic growth throughout Europe - one of the EU’s main purposes of European integration. This underlines the assumption that citizens are more worried about what happens to them on short-term basis, while institutional bodies such as the government and the EU have a wider focus.

Table 2:


 


It is clear that the EU does not have a clear majority of its citizens behind its decisions. A lot of people are skeptical to the EU in general, and the uncertainty about the effects of enlargement does not make things better. Whether the EU can continue with its expansion policy all depends on how things turn out. If the EU fails with both “deepening” and “widening” or even just one of them, the ‘glory days’ of the Union may very well be over.

 

WHAT IS EUROPE?

How far can the EU expand its borders? Is the Union limited to traditional geographic borders, or can, for example, Russia, Morocco, Israel, or other independent states join in the future?

Turkey, which is recognized as a European state despite having 96 percent of its land area in Asia, applied for membership in 1987 but will not become a possible candidate until it has solved its human rights problems. This has not stopped the EU, though, to start membership discussions with it. Morocco also applied in 1987 but was politely told that it was not eligible. Malta and Cyprus have also applied, and now have association agreements with the EU[21].

Russia is maybe the most interesting issue in further enlargement of the EU. Today, Russia is the EU’s leading trading partner, accounting for some 45 percent of its foreign trade. Almost 60 percent of foreign investment in Russia comes from the EU.

Both Russia and the EU stand on the threshold of change. In February 1998, the European Parliament declared that “the European Union’s strategy toward Russia should be one of the priorities of its action for the future [with the aim of] enabling Russia to play a full role in the future of Europe”. This does not mean that Russia necessarily have to become a full member of the EU, although the Russian leadership does not deny that it could become an issue in the future. Some Western and Russian voices have risen for immediate membership talks with Russia, but the general mood is that there is no need to hurry[22].

These opinions indicate that the EU considers Russia as a part of Europe and that it may become a member in the future, but what about the six former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine? These have already signalled an interest in the EU by applying to join the Council of Europe. It is early days so far as they are concerned, but sometimes in the beginning of the next millennium some of them may have consolidated their democracies and developed their economies, and might be eligible candidates of knocking on the Union’s door.

If this happens, it is more likely that the EU will engage in some exclusive treaty relationship with these countries instead of granting them full membership[23]. It is hard to see Europe expand to a gigantic world power, reaching from the Atlantic in the West and almost to Japan in the East. It is also not likely that the present member-states would favour such an enlargement policy.

The EU started with six members in 1958 and now has 15 members with a population of 370 million. The prospect is that by year 2002-2005 this will have grown to 26 members, with a population of 450 million. Ten years later, the EU could consist of over 40 members with a population close to 700 million. Reality itself and a piece of human psychology says that this is not a logical scenario and that the member-states will have clear objections to this. A multi-cultural organisation like this - a “United Nations of Europe” - would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to handle.

 

CONCLUSION

This essay has shown that there are split feelings about the expansion of EU’s border to the east. While most of the member-states support bringing in the Eastern European countries into the Community when they are ready to fully meet EU’s criteria for accession, uncertainty and skepticism can easily be found amongst individual member-state citizens. The stakes are high, and the benefits uncertain. Will the enlargement increase or decrease terrorism? Will unemployment increase or decrease? Will the EU grow so large that it becomes incapable of effective and efficient decision-making?

These are questions that will continue to worry citizens in the EU, and it is impossible to already give any answers. The enlargement of the EU is a continuously process which has to be dealt with and evaluated over time, and whether the member-states will follow the path or not is determined by what path reality shows to take as Europe enters the new millenium.

 

Any reproduction or distribution of this text is prohibited without express permission by the author. Please contact peter@engholm.nu for permission or further information.

 

REFERENCES:

“Austria and its eastern neighbours”, The Economist, May 9, 1998.

“Europe and the challenge of enlargement”, Bulletin of the European Community. Supplement”, 3/92.

“Still an odd man out?”, The Economist, May 9, 1998.

“Welcome to Europe”, The Economist, July 19, 1997.

Bideleux R., “In lieu of a conclusion: East meets West?”, in Bideleux R., Taylor, R., European Integration and Disintegration, Routledge, London, 1996.

Centre for Finnish Business and Policy Studies (EVA), “Report: Finnish EU opinion in autumn 1997”, http://www.eva.fi/english/julkaisut/eu297/sisallys.htm, Helsinki, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

Centre for Finnish Business and Policy Studies (EVA), “Report: More members for the EU?”, http://www.eva.fi/english/julkaisut/eu197/sisallys.htm, Helsinki, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

Danilov, D., “A Piece of the Partnership”, Transition, Vol. 5, No. 4., April 1998.

Joffe, J., “Countdown to E-day”, Time Magazine, http://www.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/1998/int/980119/special_report_.countdow9.html, Vol. 151 No. 3, 19 January, 1998.

Lobby for Cyprus, “Special European Report: The strategic benefits to the European Union of Cypriot membership”, http://www.lobbyforcyprus.org/Cyprus_European_Union.htm, 2nd ed., October 1996.

Rupnik, J., “Enlarging Europe: Risks and Responsibilities”, Transition, Vol. 5, No. 4., April 1998.

Smyth, P., “A mark of progress”, http://www.irish-times.com/irish-times/special/treaty/intro.html, Assessed 25 May, 1998.

Spokesman's Service of the European Commission, “The European Union - Enlargement: Q & A”, http://www.eurunion.org/legislat/extrel/enlarge.htm, Memo 96/78 of 30 July, 1996.

The Council of the European Union, “Descriptive Summary of the Treaty of Amsterdam”, http://ue.eu.int/Amsterdam/en/treaty/main.htm, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

The Delegation of the European Commission to United States, “Europe at the Millenium: New Members, New Currency, Agenda 2000”, http://www.eurunion.org/events/transcr1.htm, Washington D.C., 28 October, 1997.

The Economist, Guide to the European Union, Profile Books Ltd., London, 1997.

The European Commission, “Agenda 2000: For a stronger and wider Union”, http://europa.eu.int/comm/agenda2000/overview/en/agenda.htm, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

The European Commission, “General Report on the Activities of the European Union”, http://europa.eu.int/abc/doc/off/rg/en/1997/enx60697.htm, Brussels - Luxemburg, January 1998.

Weidenfeld W. & Wessels, W., Europe from A to Z, Luxembourg, 1997.

 

FOOTNOTES:



[1] Rupnik, J., “Enlarging Europe: Risks and Responsibilities”, Transition, Vol. 5, No. 4, April 1998, p.18.

[2] “Europe and the challenge of enlargement”, Bulletin of the European Community Supplement”, 3/92, p.11.

[3] Spokesman's Service of the European Commission, “The European Union - Enlargement: Q & A”, http://www.eurunion.org/legislat/extrel/enlarge.htm, Memo 96/78 of 30 July, 1996.

[4] Weidenfeld, W. & Wessels, W., Europe from A to Z, Luxembourg, 1997, pp.91-94.

[5] The European Commission, “Agenda 2000: For a stronger and wider Union”, http://europa.eu.int/comm/agenda2000/overview/en/agenda.htm, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

[6] The Delegation of the European Commission to United States, “Europe at the Millenium: New Members, New Currency, Agenda 2000”, http://www.eurunion.org/events/transcr1.htm, Washington D.C., 28 October, 1997.

[7] Weidenfeld, W. & Wessels, W., Europe from A to Z, p.viii.

[8] Summarized with the information given in: The European Commission, “General Report on the Activities of the European Union”, http://europa.eu.int/abc/doc/off/rg/en/1997/enx60697.htm, Brussels - Luxembourg, January 1998.

[9] The European Commission, “General Report on the Activities of the European Union”, 1998.

[10] Spokesman's Service of the European Commission, “The European Union”, 1996.

[11] The European Commission, “Agenda 2000: For a stronger and wider Union”.

[12] Spokesman's Service of the European Commission, “The European Union”, 1996.

[13] Lobby for Cyprus, “Special European Report: The strategic benefits to the European Union of Cypriot membership”, http://www.lobbyforcyprus.org/Cyprus_European_Union.htm, 2nd ed., October 1996.

[14] Joffe, J., “Countdown to E-day”, Time Magazine, http://www.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/1998/ int/980119/special_report_.countdow9.html, Vol. 151 No. 3, 19 January, 1998.

[15] Watson, R., “How much will it cost?” in Rupnik, J., “Enlarging Europe: Risks and Responsibilities”, Transition, Vol. 5, No. 4., April 1998, p.24.

[16] The Council of the European Union, “Descriptive Summary of the Treaty of Amsterdam”, http://ue.eu.int/Amsterdam/en/treaty/main.htm, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

[17] Centre for Finnish Business and Policy Studies (EVA), “Report: More members for the EU?”, http://www.eva.fi/english/julkaisut/eu197/sisallys.htm, Helsinki, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

[18] Bideleux R., “In lieu of a conclusion: East meets West?”, in Bideleux R., Taylor, R., European Integration and Disintegration, Routledge, London, 1996, p.292.

[19] “Austria and its eastern neighbours”, The Economist, May 9, 1998, p.57.

[20] Centre for Finnish Business and Policy Studies (EVA), “Report: Finnish EU opinion in autumn 1997”, http://www.eva.fi/english/julkaisut/eu297/sisallys.htm, Helsinki, Assessed 23 May, 1998.

 

[21] The Economist, Guide to the European Union, 1997, pp. 242-244.

[22] Danilov, D., “A Piece of the Partnership”, Transition, Vol. 5, No. 4., April 1998, pp. 60-63.

[23] The Economist, Guide to the European Union, 1997, p.247.