Shortly after the big round of EU enlargement in 2004, I took a look at future prospects for enlargement. At the time, I called prospective members, “largely a collection of the poor, ill-governed and recently-at-war.” Most of them are much less recently at war, many of them are better governed, and almost all of them are less poor, yet for all but a few prospects for EU accession seem to me more distant than in 2004.
What has happened?
Back then I noted
[T]he EUâ€™s path to 39 members (40 if Serbia and Montenegro divorce), along with the first European Parliament elections that I expect their citizens to be able to vote in.
The Little Balkan Expansion (2009)
Two out of three’s not bad; Bulgarians and Romanians will indeed vote in 2009 to elect the next European Parliament. Croatia could possibly have come in with Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 (though it would have required record speed in the accession process), but the Croatian government in 2004â€“05 misjudged the EU’s seriousness about assisting the in arrest of an accused war criminal. The EU wasn’t kidding, and that nine months’ delay not only allowed other issues to crop up but took Croatia off of the fast track. Final negotiations on accession are expected to close in the second half of 2011. Ratification by the other members will also take its course, and Croats are likely to send MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg starting in 2014.
It gets murkier from here on out.
The Ottoman Expansion (2014)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The European Union and its member states still do not know what to do about and with Turkey. By the time the Croats accede to the Union, Turkey will be marking half a century of associate membership in the EU and its predecessors. To be sure, Turkish accession challenges many aspects of the EU’s self-conception, and the practical hurdles are also significant. On the other hand, the Treaties of Rome were signed less than 12 years after total war between Germany and France. Surely those were even greater hurdles to overcome.
In 2006, Barroso said that Turkish accession would take until at least 2021, i.e., when he is 65 and most likely retired. I suspect that most of Europe’s leaders, even into my generation, cannot wrap their minds around a Turkey that is a full and equal partner in European integration. For this assessment, I’m kicking Turkey two more EP terms down the road, and I’m not optimistic about accession even then because I think the EU will still find it inconvenient. More’s the pity.
If the EU can take in Turkey, the difficulties of the smaller countries are put into perspective. If it can’t, they loom much larger than they ought. Four of the now-five countries need significant work on their state structures. Two are involved in separatist conflicts. One is embroiled in a silly name dispute. As part of a bigger round of enlargement, these difficulties would recede into the background of wider EU changes, but considering just the small countries on their own merits will mean that the problems get plenty of scrutiny. And while they may eventually become stronger candidates for that reason, the key word is eventually. Serbia, for example, has set accession by 2014 as a goal. No way. Serbia will be very fortunate to complete the accession process in time for 2019, by which time recognizing Kosovo’s independence will also be part of the package. The others are also looking at 2019 at best.
Last Call (2019)
This is a mixed bag. Since I was allowing 15 years from the time of initial writing, it was a bit harder to slip in the schedule. Nevertheless, some of these potential candidate have managed.
Albania’s Stability and Association Agreement (SAA) is likely to enter into force in 2011. EU acceptance of Albania’s formal application for accession will be the next step. The country appears to be making expected progress, building institutions and its economy from a very low level (by European standards). It is helped by EU engagement in the western Balkans, and by relative stability in the neighborhood. The Albanian government will not have an easy path, but eight more years of steady work may do the trick.
Armenia could, with sufficient policy determination, also join within the next eight years. At present, however, the government seems content with relations shaped by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). Until a cross-party consensus exists that Armenia should make a drive for membership, accession will remain a vague option, weighed against the Russian tendencies in parts of the country’s leadership. To say nothing of the unresolved territorial conflict on its eastern border. 2019 seems unlikely.
Since I wrote in 2004, Azerbaijan has shown itself an inheritable (for one generational transition, at least) authoritarian state. In the spring of 2011 the government is more concerned about contagion from the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa than about meeting EU standards. Without a change in the system, there are no prospects for accession; even with a change, at least a decade of hard work will be required. I thought that all three South Caucasus countries would join a wider EU; it is possible that Azerbaijan could elect to remain outside even if the other two join.
The government in Belarus rang in by 2011 by imprisoning hundreds of opposition members and severely beating candidates for president who lost in December 2010. The country’s authoritarian ruler is young enough (56 at this writing) that he could be in power for at least another 10 or 15 years. If that is the case, Belarus will stay on the outside looking in. EU accession date is the fall of Lukashenko, plus 12 years.
Moldova, at first blush, looks comparable to Armenia: no cross-party consensus, territorial conflict, general goodwill toward the EU, no hurry to undertake the real work. 2024 at the earliest.
Ukraine. Ah, Ukraine. Its entry would be almost as significant for the EU as Turkey’s, with
60 46 million inhabitants and an area roughly equivalent to France. But the failure of the Orange Revolution to live up to the hopes raised in 2004 has pushed Ukrainian accession from a long-term prospect to a long-odds proposition. Leaders in Western Europe didn’t know quite what to make of Ukrainian ambitions to join the EU either; as a result, the moment for forging consensus passed, and even the joint Polish-Ukrainian UEFA Championships in 2012 will do little to change that.
Three hardy perennials appeared in 2004 to be happy to grow outside the EU (though inside the European Economic Area): Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. All three had stayed out for reasons of domestic politics, although they participate in various elements of European integration. The financial crisis of 2008 changed the equation in Iceland’s internal politics, and the country is now negotiating accession. If the domestic consensus holds, it will likely join the Union in time for the 2014 Euro Parliament elections.
My current assessment of which EP elections will be the first a particular country’s citizens vote in.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Not long after the EU chooses to let it in
Ten years after they sort themselves out
Six-plus years later, this assessment is considerably more pessimistic. Part of this is that EU matters always take longer than you think, even if you believe you have factored in the fact that EU matters always take longer than you think. Part of it is backsliding in countries that already faced daunting paths to accession. And part of it is the continued inability of EU leaders to come to terms with Turkey.
This is the path to EU-41. What do you think?