Barroso: Constitution Before Enlargement

Maybe Commission President Barroso did not specifically say the Union needed a constitution, despite setbacks in France and the Netherlands. He said that the Union had to address its institutional issues before proceeding with any additional enlargement after Bulgaria and Romani join at the beginning of next year. But the only way to re-jigger the institutions is with something very much like a constitution.

So tough luck for now, Croatia. Should have gotten into the express lane.

The German presidency will feature institutional reform as one of its key issues, but this will be tough going. In general, Merkel has benefitted from being underestimated, but pushing through changes at the EU level is an area where it would probably be better to have an outsized reputation.

Well, these issues have been hibernating for more than a year. No longer.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, The European Union and tagged , by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

9 thoughts on “Barroso: Constitution Before Enlargement

  1. Well I just posted a long comment on a similar post on Demography Matters, so why don’t I revamp it and start the ball rolling here.

    Many people are interpreting this as a setback for Turkey. I don’t agree, and here’s why.

    Now the first thing to note about Barroso’s statements is that you need to contextualise them – as Doug suggests – in relation to the whole Constitution issue.

    Barroso isn’t saying enlargement is over, but that enlargement is over until the Constitution is sorted.

    Turkey isn’t directly affected by this, since Turkey was never going to enter before 2014 at the earliest. So the main casualty here is – again as Doug points out – Croatia.

    It is very hard to read the tealeaves about what happens next with any precision, since, as we have been commenting over the last few days, Eastern Europe may take a real bashing (with the possible exception of the Czech Republic) during the next recession. Now if this happens enthusiasm for taking more Eastern European members may cool rather.

    But there is a problem since politically you just can’t leave them to rot. We are talking here, apart from Croatia, about Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and (probably) Ukraine.

    Next it is important to separate the euro from the EU. Remember that a majority of the EU are not in the euro (only 12 out of 25 are in), and I would be surprised if any of the new members (apart from Slovenia) will be joining soon.

    But the EU is primarily a *political project*, and we should never forget that. It was born of war and to avoid war. So I think in this context (and in the context of what is happening to Russia) the EU has to do something for these countries. So that means that accession will be on the agenda again. Apart from anything else it is very hard to justify letting – say – Romania in, while permanently denying membership to Croatia and the others. What would be the justification for such a position?

    Also I think people may be in danger of ‘ball watching’ here. What may have been the objective of Barroso’s speech? To let Bulgaria and Romania pass through the door without too much fuss, that’s what the most likely objective was. To avoid controversy about this decision.

    So my guess is that the next move then would be to introduce the Constitution, but by the back door. I don’t think there will be any more referendum. My guess is that they will work within the terms of the Nice agreement, and break the thing down into manageable parts, one bit at a time. This is what has been being argued from some people at Brussels for some time now.

    So after this is done accession will be back on the agenda, and if Croatia is to be accepted it will be politically impossible not to accept Turkey, as long as Turkey makes the reforms which are demanded, and I imagine she will do.

    So I do see Turkey in the EU around 2014/2015. Of course there are things which can cut across all this, and they are the kinds of things we are talking about here, like if there were to be a major economic crisis which lead to the breakup of the eurozone (starting, say, in Italy).

  2. Knowing Mr Barroso’s tactics when he was my PM… he’ll probably run away if things start getting too hard – so nothing much will come out of this.

    I would indeed love to see a final, once-and-for-all stabilization of the Union’s institutions for a 25+ club… and it’s actualy even better for the likes of Turkey/Ukrain/former Yugs that the EU first gets it’s situation sorted out, so that everyone knows what they’re aplying to enter.

  3. Today’s Wall Street Journal Europe, probably reflecting an American administration view, says,

    This euro-fudge will likely re-enforce the impression among the EU publics that enlargement is against the union’s and their own interests, and thus sour the mood not only for Turkey but for Ukraine, the Western Balkans and points further east. And Romanians and Bulgarians can’t be blamed for feeling humiliated by having to swallow this Brussels double-standard.

    “How far can we go without rendering the EU inefficient,” Mr. de Villepin asked after his meeting with Mr. Barroso. Sure, the more countries, the messier the decision-making process. But the most momentous decision the EU can take is to expand the sphere of peace, security and prosperity beyond its current borders.

    They downgrade the fussing about the constitution but I think that’s only because their preferred view of the EU is as another forum for NATO meetings.

  4. “We are talking here, apart from Croatia, about Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and (probably) Ukraine.”

    Also Kosovo, Bosnia, and Albania.

    Note that Albania is formally further along the process than Serbia or Montenegro — they have a Stabilization and Assocation Pact with the EU (the step before candidacy), while Serbia and Montenegro do not. Though Montenegro probably will soon.

    Macedonia, BTW, is a full-fledged no-kidding EU candidate, just like Croatia and Turkey. So this hits them too. Though not as hard, since they were looking at membership no sooner than 2012.

    For the record, I’ve always been rather skeptical of Croatia’s readiness, and I don’t think a couple of years’ delay would be a bad thing.

    Doug M.

  5. “How far can we go without rendering the EU inefficient,” Mr. de Villepin asked after his meeting with Mr. Barroso.

    The wag in me wants to say, well, I’m not very sure the community was efficient at six.

    How far present institutions can go without breaking down is an interesting question, something we seem to be getting empirical evidence on right now. The rotating presidency is creaking; being in office once every thirteen years is problematic. One Commissioner per country is also a problem, though not as big a problem as using the Commission to turf out political has-beens. Parliament, I think, can get bigger for some time to come. Unanimity is an issue; when Poland gets a sensible government again, they can discourse long and loud about the perils of the liberum veto. QMV and blocking minorities are also something of an issue. Most of the solutions to these problems are known, and most of them are contained in the constitutional treaty, and I think that most of them will eventually be implemented. The question is just how eventual eventually turns out to be, and what gets lost in the time it takes to build the political gumption in the more westerly bits of Western Europe.

    Euro-fudge is tasty and what has kept the bicycle going these last few decades. (An early bio-fuel, I suppose.) Seriously, though, if the Journal doesn’t like messy compromises, it’s never going to deal with the reality of Europe.

    I think Edward’s right about the constitution entering through the back door.

    There’s also a full post on the topic of what if the EU really is finished enlarging. What are the real costs and, presumably somewhere, benefits of such a policy? Maybe I’ll write it next week when I get back from New York.

  6. well, I think we already went too fast with Bulgaria, Romania and all those eastern countries so prone to corruption and with dubious democratic pedigree.

    I expect the Constitution to build a firewall which protects such European values as: laicism, peace (everywhere, not just around the corner), freedom, respect for diversity and the environment, equal opportunities for all citizens, social welfare, and democracy.
    The US are not an acceptable standard for democracy.

  7. Seriously, though, if the Journal doesn’t like messy compromises, it’s never going to deal with the reality of Europe.

    Or the United States.

  8. There certainly seem to be different messages going to different constituencies on this topic.

    On the one hand there are the loud pronouncements of the likes of Barroso and Merkel, that there is now to be a pause – of the kind that were not heard after the last bout of enlargement (even though it seems the number of years until the next expansion is not too different compared to last time).

    Then there are the pronouncements that Rehn, and the local EU envoys, are making in some Balkan countries (in particular Croatia and Macedonia) that this does not mean any substantive change in policy and that by the time they are ready to join, the governance and institutional issues would have been sorted out. (Given that those two countries’ own governments are aiming for 2009 and 2010 respectively – I have no idea if this is reasonable or not – that does seem correct. And so the Barroso message is largely directed to calm the nerves of people in the EU who use the enlargement as a scapegoat (again I have no idea whether this is a large number of “EU-ans” or not)).

    And then there are statements directed to Turkey that seem to continually ratchet up the standards – now it seems even the armenian massacre of some centuries ago is part of the enlargement agenda.

    What is definitely problematic (and may be more insurmountable) is the tendency to divert the enlargement decisions towards referenda, as France has done. How a small country like Croatia or Macedonia would be able to participate and argue in favour of its accession in a French referendum is not entirely clear. And these referenda could open up the stage for the kind of populist and xenophobic rhetoric and argumentation that is perhaps increasingly becoming common place in Europe anyway – unfortunately…

  9. It is not some centuries ago. There are still people alive who live through it.

    But the problem is that Germany, Austria and Belgium are not the only European countries with a dark recent history.

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