EU limits of enlargement

Enlargement of the European Unionis the process of expanding theEuropean Union via the accession of newmember states. This process began with thefirst Six, who were the founding powers of theEuropean Coal and Steel Communitywhich was a precursor to the EU in 1952. Since then the EU’s membership has increased to twenty seven with the more recent expansions includingBulgariaandRomaniain 2007.Currently there are negotiations under way with several countries who wish to begin the process of joining the EU. The process of enlargement is often calledEuropean integration. However, this term is also used to refer to the increased levels of co-operation between EU member states as individual national governments allow for the integration of more common national laws. (EU Online 2010) To be able to join the European Union a country needs to fulfil several economic and political conditions which are collectively called theCopenhagen criteria(after theCopenhagensummit in June 1993). Any prospective member also needs to have a stable democratic government that respects the rule of international law, and its corresponding freedoms and institutions. According to theMaastricht Treaty, each current member state and theEuropean Parliamentmust agree to any enlargement. (EU Online 2010)

Enlargement is counted among the EU’s most successful foreign policies but it has also suffered from severe opposition.France has historically been opposed to enlargement. British membership vetoed by France because they feared the influence of the United States.(IISS 2008) France was also opposed to Portuguese, Spanish and Greek membership because they feared that these states were not ready and it would dilute the EU down to a free trade area(ESI 2006). The reason for the first member states to apply and for them to be accepted was economical while the second enlargement was much more to do with politics (IISS 2008). The southern Mediterranean countries in Europe had just emerged from dictatorships and single party governments and wanted to preserve the security of their democratic systems through the EU, while the EU wanted to ensure that their southern counterparts were stable democracies and to steer them away from any possible communist influence.These two principle factors, economic and political security have been the driving force behind enlargements. However with the more recent enlargements in 2004 public opinion in Europe has turned against further expansion. It has also been acknowledged that enlargement has its limits, the EU cannot expand endlessly (ESI 2006).

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To understand the limits of enlargement we need to understand the effect that enlargement has on the eruopean union

Since the spring of 2005, when the proposed European Constitutional Treaty was rejected in referenda in France and the Netherlands, debate on the drawbacks of enlargement has gained in intensity. Senior politicians across Europe have called 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. (ESI 2006)

One of the factors that turn public opinion against European enlargement is immigration. The members of the old Europe fear the influx of migrants that adding more members to the European Union would bring. The fact that several of the older member states public (Britain, France) are already hostile to foreign labour only makes this worse. Indeed immigration was the main reason that the constitution was defeated in the French and Dutch referenda in 2005. This migration also creates problems for prospective members as huge numbers of skilled workers leave for other EU countries. The new members will after the initial economic boom that comes with joining the EU fall into economic decline and demand more and more money from the EU budget to keep its economy afloat. (Palmer 2006)

Further enlargement would also put more pressure on the European Union’s already struggling administrative system the simple fact is that the European Union does not have the governance capacity to effectively run a union of twenty seven without adding another ten or fifteen new member states. With the failure of its planned constitution and the unpopularity of the Lisbon treaty it clearly lacks the required degree of integration needed for effective decision making and implementation. And the essential development of a transnationalEuropean democracyis still falling far behind the limited progress made in strengthening the EU’s executive powers. (Palmer 2006)

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There seems little doubt that at that point “classical” EU enlargement will have reached its end. Of course major questions about the relationship to the EU of countries further east -Ukraine, Moldova,Belarusand the countries of theCaucasus(Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan) remain (Palmer 2006). But they will have to be solved through a different process involving more limited sovereignty-sharing with the EU. Indeed, this could become a more attractive model for Turkey in the nextdecade. It would be disastrous for peace stability and the spread of democracy in the wider European neighbourhood if enlargement shuddered to a halt now.(palmer 2006) But we need a definition of a wider European Commonwealth that does not bind both sides into the detailed legal structures drawn up fifty years ago for European countries facing quite different challenges.

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