Enlargement Fatigue

Heard the news from Salzburg?

If so, you must have been listening very carefully, for the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers held there this weekend was very quiet, and not just because of the extra dumping of snow the region received, in what has been a very snowy winter.

Half-way through the Austrian presidency, ambitions to press for EU enlargement through the Western Balkans are being scaled back. It’s not completely certain that the Austrians are ready to hand the ball to the Finns (who will, in the nature of things, be more likely to push forward on the Northern Dimension), still less to the Germans (1H07, and likely accession of Romania and Bulgaria) or the Slovenes (1H08, the next neighbor and the last until Hungary comes up again in the first half of 2011, a time when America will be gearing up to elect George W. Bush’s successor’s potential successor).

Still, the German newspaper whose web site has marginally improved reports that the lack of backsliding on what ministers agreed in 2003 is being spun as success for the Salzburg meeting. (The 2003 agreement in Thessaloniki was roughly Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, negotiations probably with Croatia and Turkey [since confirmed], Stability and Association Agreements with the Western Balkans, accession negotiations according to the Copenhagen criteria.)

Significantly, the meeting’s participants agreed that the Union’s “absorption capacity” would play a role in the enlargement process. On the face of it, that is just stating the obvious. But it reinforces the view that the EU will take time to come to terms with the 10 new members who joined in 2004, and the poorer nations of Southeastern Europe will not only have to work very hard to meet the EU’s criteria (Turkey recently abolished the death penalty in wartime, following peacetime abolition in 2002), but will also have to wait until present members are good and ready. They may also have to wait until the Union has agreed on how to reform its institutions to work with ca. 40 members, but that is another story entirely.

Each wave of enlargement has been followed by a period of integration. In the past, that has not been pressing because there were not generally countries waiting in the queue. Things are different now. Is the Union?

My slightly sardonic take on enlargement in Central Europe, which I first floated in the mid-1990s, was that it would come to pass as soon as at least one new member would be a net contributor. With Slovenia, that was duly fulfilled for the 2004 enlargement. But I don’t think that Southeastern Europe can wait that long, and I don’t think that the Union’s self-imposed timetable is enough to drive enlargement. While it’s possible that bureaucratic momentum among current members and political will among prospective members will keep the bicycle moving, I am at present not fully convinced. It may take an outside development, but just now I can’t think what that could be. Perhaps enlargement fatigue has gotten to me as well.

15 thoughts on “Enlargement Fatigue

  1. “…It may take an outside development, but just now I can’t think what that could be…”

    Doug, may I politely call your bluff?

    You must be thinking of something, otherwise you wouldn’t have suggested anything so completely out-of-the-question.

    (If I’ve understood you correctly, you’re suggesting that some potential members may join sooner than they ought, and bypassing normal procedures. You did mean this, didn’t you?)

  2. Regarding Turkish membership, isn’t it still a crime in Turkey to refer to the Armenian “genocide”? I can’t imagine that the EU would accept Turkey as long as that law remains on the books.

  3. Well enlargement is also a tool to get what the EU needs, which just lately seems to be energy. The latest energy green paper (and the speed that the Commission produced it) shows signs of wanting all its neighbours into the Energy Community at present limited to South East Europe. So what price a deal to get Turkey into Europe to control gas flows from Central Asia and the Middle East into Europe as an alternative route to gas from Russia?

    And what price a deal with Ukraine for another route to compete with Russia?

  4. Peter, I expect Turkey to be admitted in time for its citizens to vote in the European Parliament elections in 2014. Quite a bit will happen between now and then.

    Hirvi, my thoughts in that direction are not even half-baked. One way of looking at it is to consider the 2004 enlargement. Poland may have come in before it “should” have, because the rest of the enlargement made little sense without Poland. Also, most of the states acceding in 2004 had one or two issues that were still being worked out. That’s normal for EU enlargements. It’s also clear that the EU-25 is not, just this moment, ready to take in new members.

    What would make it so? My best sense right now is something–possibly something unpleasant–that leads EU heads of government to think it is better to have the Western Balkan countries in than out. The present EU arrangements and incentives have been sped up in an effort to reduce the violence in the region. That may happen again. Of the predictions referred to above, the one that seems in the most trouble right now is Croatia by 2009.

    It’s also possible, as I said, that bureaucratic momentum will do the trick. One reason to think so is that the Balkan economies are relatively small. If the issues for Turkish accession are solved over the next decade, the hurdles for Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia will be comparatively low. After all, metropolitan Istanbul has a population five to six times as great as Macedonia’s. So if Turkey is admitted, other post-Ottoman countries could easily follow in its wake.

  5. Peter, the French have a law on their book that state that the teaching of their colonial history should point to their good deeds so Turkey fits right in.

    Vaske, you should wonder when Iran is admitted. Would solve a lot of problems.

    Doug, admitting Croatia with the rest the former Yugoslav republics makes to much sense to not stall them. Also the rest of Eastern Europe will be admitted soon because otherwise they would be staging posts for our greatest enemy.

  6. Look at it from an French perspective and the answer is clear.

    Sorry, I can’t quite see how the Balkans are a staging post for Britain, the US, Germany or Belgium.

  7. “the French have a law on their book that state that the teaching of their colonial history should point to their good deeds so Turkey fits right in.”

    There’s a major difference between a law that requires certain things in the school curriculum and a law that makes it a crime to mention a dark episode in the nation’s past. Turkey’s criminalization of Armenian-genocide discussion is a significant infringement on free speech. Whatever else may happen, I do not see how the EU could accept Turkey as a member with that law on its books.

  8. Armenian genocide –> Turks were evil
    French colonial history –> French were evil

    I think they are exactly alike. In fairness the Armenian genocide is less evil (it is more if not them than us unlike what France did in its colonies)

  9. Alex, you are right about the UK, Belgium and Germany. But the US is slowly being pushed out of old Europe.

  10. Armenian genocide –> Turks were evil
    French colonial history –> French were evil

    And the Dutch and the British and the Belgians (through their king Leopold II) and the Germans (WWII), etc.

    The point, right now, is in recognizing the atrocities committed. As Peter said, “There’s a major difference between a law that requires certain things in the school curriculum and a law that makes it a crime to mention a dark episode in the nation’s past.”

  11. But if you have a law than that points to something fishy. it is more of an acknowledgement than you would otherwise expect

  12. Very big deal: Merkel moots ‘privileged partnership’ for Balkans

    Germany was by far the most important force behind the first eastern enlargement. Who’s now keeping the door open? Britain’s support follows a widening vs deepening logic, and is in many circles discounted accordingly. Anyone else?
    Arguments over Turkey I can understand. But to shut the door on part of continental Europe is a massive retreat. A formal process to eventual membership ought to be maintained; ‘privileged partnership’ shouldn’t become an alternative, second-order endpoint. To go down that route is a short term soft option that will lead to grave problems down the road.
    Should we invest some hope in the diplomatic fudging reported in the linked article?

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