Thanks to everyone who commented on the FinalitÃ© Revisited essay. So much substance in the discussion that I wanted to highlight some of it in a post, instead of just replying in comments.
Three thoughts from my side: First, the name of the initial post hearkens back to a debate about the final shape and structure of the European Union, a debate that was a lot more active in the early 2000s than it is today. Geographic finalitÃ© was the counterpart of institutional finalitÃ©, both tied to the apparently eternal debate on widening vs deepening. (My short answer on that one is both-and, rather than either-or.) Through the constitutional convention, the draft constitutional treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, many of the institutional questions that so exercised a Union changing from 12 to 27 members have been settled. It’s too soon to say how the new approaches, such as the External Action Service or the permanent presidency of the Council, will work over the longer term, but they have moved from the debating to the testing stage in the European experiment.
When the geographic and institutional debates were moving along in parallel, the geographic possibilities informed the institutional design. How can institutions that were built for twelve (or in some cases six) members be adapted for a Union of nearly forty? Now that the institutional questions are as settled as they ever are within the EU, the geographic question stands alone. Leaders and publics can know the EU’s institutions, and make choices about relations without needing to speculate too much about what the EU might become.
Second, I’ve thought about potential members from the outside in. That is, where are ideas such as “return to Europe,” “part of Europe,” or “European vocation” part of the political discourse? Where these ideas find little purchase among leaders or opposition is where the outer border of the European Union will find its natural place. Iran, for example. As I mentioned in comments, “I think … Russiaâ€™s leaders see their countryâ€™s peers in Europe as either the EU itself, or at a stretch some of the EUâ€™s largest member states.” Turkey, by contrast, has an active membership application, increasing interactions and a domestic discourse about the country’s “European vocation.” Those aspects point to eventual membership. To be sure, Turkey has plenty of work to do, but the greater hurdle will be for leaders of current members. We’ve had discussions on Turkish membership before, and I know that opinion varies.
I know a lot less about the South than I do about the East, so please feel free to chime in. Are there Mediterranean states where the rhetoric of a “return to Europe” or a “European vocation” is important?
Third, there is the question of gray zones. In the debates preceding the 2004 enlargement, this question was often raised and generally counted in favor of EU enlargement. It was difficult then to see how having a group of countries along the EU’s borders with uncertain international alignment would be beneficial to the Union. It applies again, especially in relation to arguments that some aspiring countries should never be admitted: How does leaving some countries in a halfway house, or on the outside trying to get in, benefit the EU? It’s as important to face the costs of inaction as it is to face the costs of action.
One question that came up often in comments was about territorial disputes – Serbia/Kosovo, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Georgia, etc. – and I am undecided about this matter. For one thing, many of the current members have territorial arrangements that are not entirely orthodox (Channel Isles, overseas bits of Netherlands and France, Ceuta & Melilla), in dispute (Gibraltar), were hotly contested in the recent past (Northern Ireland), are the source of armed conflicts in varying degrees of intensity (Basque country, Corsica) and so on. Clearly, EU membership and territorial peculiarities are not incompatible.
Further, it’s possible to read the Cyprus example both ways: either that the EU should not bring in a member with active territorial disputes (as the current criteria have it) or that a territorial dispute makes very little difference to the quality of EU membership. For a time it looked as if membership prospects would be sufficient to get Cypriots to resolve their partition. It wasn’t, and they haven’t, but has the EU really suffered as a result?
That is part of the reason I wrote about the centrality of large-state entrants. An EU that can look forward to Turkish membership is one that is unlikely to be terribly fussed about fewer than 50,000 South Ossetians and some gorgeous but unproductive mountain valleys.
To answer some specific questions from commenters: Kosovo. I don’t know enough to say. I can see a logic to admitting it at the same time as Serbia, but I don’t know if Kosovo’s application will have advanced enough. It would be member 42, presuming that neither Norway nor Switzerland has opted for membership by then.
Georgia and Armenia in different groups. I wrote that in 2004, in the rush of momentum following Georgia’s Rose Revolution. I don’t have them in different groups in my current list.
Doug M., any updated views on Transnistria? Since you say “not for a generation” in relation to several countries, I wonder if you can put a number on that expression. Twenty? More? In the cases of Ukraine and Belarus, my “ten years after they sort themselves out” (which is admittedly optimistic, it may be more like 15 years after any such sorting) probably amounts to the same thing.
And Azerbaijan as probably never because neither leadership nor opposition has the European vocation? Likewise Armenia? I’d say that Georgian belief is eventual membership is a good reason to expect that it will eventually happen.
It’s unlikely that this will be the last word on finalitÃ©.