27, 491m.

Since I doubt anyone of the afoe crew will be anywhere close to a computer when it will happen later tonight, this little announcement about the latest and probably last EU-enlargement in a while will have to do for the time being.

At midnight, Bulgaria and Romania will become members of the European Union, increasing the Union membership to 27 countries and 491million people – despite numerous remaining doubts about the countries’ ability to cope with the administrational demands of the EU and the imposition of special obligations and limitations, especially regarding the free movement of labour. Thus, as with the big Eastern enlargement in 2004, some commentators have called this enlargement-round a “second class” enlargement.

Still, that the countries’ accession has caused almost no public debate is probaly a consequence of the limited economic impact the two countries can possibly have, despite low labour costs. In 2004, Bulgaria’s and Romania’s GDP was a mere 0.2 resp. 0.6% of the joint EU-27 GDP.

Then again, on New Year’s Eve, all glasses are half-full and figures like the ones just mentioned only indicate a significant growth potential. Happy New Year!

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.
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Austria Would Prefer Not To

Earlier this year, Eurobarometer started asking members what they thought about future EU expansion. The results (which can be found here, as a pdf) were pretty interesting.

52% of Europeans support membership for Croatia, while only 34% oppose it. (War criminals? What war criminals?) And 50% support membership for Bulgaria. But only 45% support Romania coming in. Which is a bit embarrassing, given that the EU has already firmly committed to Romanian membership, even if it might be delayed for a year.

Still, the Romanians can take comfort; they’re well ahead of Serbia (40%), Albania (36%) and Turkey (dead last, with 35% of Europeans supporting Turkish membership and 52% against).

Where this gets interesting — in a Eurovision-y sort of way — is when you start to break it down by country.
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Triste Est Omne Animal

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the entry of ten new states into the EU. It was an anniversary generally celebrated amidst a notable lack of champagne and fireworks. Perhaps we are living in more discrete and austere times. Nonetheless there have been articles here and there in the press, amongst them the one in the Economist which I allude to in the title.

The Economist quote actually comes from one of the founding fathers of modern medicine – the second century Greek physician Galen – and the full quote is “Triste est omne animal post coitum” (no prizes for guessing the use to which the Economist puts this idea in the context of the recent enlargement, although if any of our commentators feels moved to provide anecdotal testimony on the soundness of Galen’s original idea, then please don’t let me stand in your way).

The article is provocatively entitled “Now that we are all bundled inside, let’s shut the door“, and is a survey of all the various kinds of ambivalences and ambiguities which can now be found among the 25 member states about the enlargement process in general. An interesting if not profoundly novel assessment of the state of play. Perhaps the most surprising discovery for me was the level of tension which currently seems to exist along the Brussels/Bucharest axis.

Perhaps a more balanced assessment can be found in today’s EU observer. Unusually for me I find myself entirely in agreement with the sentiments expressed by European Commission President Jos? Manuel Barroso who is quoted as saying that the anniversary “is a happy event for all Europeans” calling the enlargement “a reunification of not only nations and peoples but also of cultures”.

Where is the European project headed?

This is a slightly revised version of an early Europundit entry that I thought deserved a second life.

What will enlargement mean?

There has been a lot of talk lately [back in May at least] about what the long-term consequences of enlargement will be, and also about the rift that the Iraq war has caused in Europe. Some people, especially Americans have been saying there’s a risk of crisis, and that the Union will become divided and dysfunctional. There’s one in my estimate strong indication that they’re wrong: Look at the Convention. Divisions have not at all been on the lines of “old” or “new” Europeans, but between small and big states and between intergovernmentalists and supranationalists. The actors have taken positions out of what they think is right, and what they perceive is in their interest. And that’s how things will continue to be.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy have been weakened, but no one has ever imagined nations would take common positions on every issue. I think the Convention also demonstrates there’s a lot of agreement, and a strong will to work together and move forward. Integration and reform has been continued at a rapidly accelerated pace. If the issues of division of power between institutions, between the nations, and the future shape of the EU aren?t causing paralysis, why would fishing disputes or whatever?

There’ll probably be friction between France and the Central Europeans, but what people have missed is that the group of eight’s letter was not the only cause of divisions, but mostly something that brought divisions to the surface. In my opinion, it’s not so much because of any particular irreconcilable differences; rather it’s part of a long-term trend. Starting about five years ago nations stopped deciding almost everything by unanimity. This has to do with the growing number of members and with the increase of decisions taken on the EU level. Indeed, it’s also because national sensitivities have decreased, and issues aren’t looked at only from the national perspective or as national horse-trading, so therefore acceptance has grown of majority voting. Also, the group of eight’s letter was a reaction to French-German hegemonic tendencies, but remember the reaction was because the French-German engine had been revived after being dead 1997-2002. Changing alliances aren’t an impediment to progress or “ever closer union.”

So what we will see is these trends continuing, and being reinforced by, enlargement and further integration. More open divisions, and factionalism, but not so much divisions between any set camps, rather division on an issue-for-issue basis, and not so much one nor two power centers, though France-Germany still will be a power center in many instances. And, I don’t think it will put any brakes on integration.

Ever Closer Still

The last six or eight years saw these trends starting, and at the same time integration has not just continued, but at an accelerating pace. These were also the years of the Commission losing power and initiative to the Council (the national governments.) Integration is not driven by ideology or by some long-term federalist strategy. Rather, it’s the product of a thousand smaller decisions. Rather, it’s driven by “historical forces”, by a situation where every further step makes sense, by a self-reinforcing logic, and because there are no significant factors acting to slow or stop integration.

By the evidence of the Convention, plus my general knowledge of the Candidate countries, I don?t see enlargement seriously working against these trends, though if the constitution will be a drastic step, it may cause a temporary breathing pause. I don’t see anything else seriously slowing the process either in the foreseeable future. (Granted, in these matters, that’s hardly longer than a decade as I see it.)

That begs the question when will it stop? I don’t think this gradualist, often not noticed by the public, process can’t possibly continue to the point where suddenly we find ourselves citizens of a federal state. At some point something’s gots to give. When and how that will happen, I have no idea. Everything about the EU’s development is so gloriously uncertain and unprecedented, which is why it’s so fascinating.

(Actually, things are already changing, integration is no longer mostly by stealth or couched in bureaucratic terms, and there is a debate about what the final goal is.)

I started out sounding like I defended the EU from its detractors and now I sound almost like a eurosceptic. I should note that one explanation for the success of “Ever closer union” is that it simply makes sense, because of increasing interdependence et cetera. But the problem is, no one bothered involving the public, or at least didn’t succeed.

Around the Internet

Polls indicate Estonians will vote yes to EU accession tomorrow.

In Sweden, “polls give widely differing indications as to the likely outcome of the referendum.”

The Economist has a pretty decent primer on our referendum. (Via Crooked Timber)

International Herald Tribune reported yesterday enlargement seems to be bad news for African farmers::

For France the prospect of support from Poland and Hungary is a welcome development.

For years French politicians have feared that the enlargement of the European Union would mean a dilution of French power and influence in Europe. But on the question of farm policy, enlargement could provide much-needed moral and political support.

It is a different story for groups that support a radical overhaul of the E43 billion, or $48 billion, program, for whom enlargement is a worrying prospect.

“The opportunity for reform was this summer,” said Sam Barratt of Oxfam, an aid organization that has been very critical of Europe’s farm policies. “And given the obstinacy that the French had then, when the Hungarians and the Poles join it’s going to make any reform even harder.” The number of farmers in the Union will increase by 50 percent with the admission of 10 new countries into the Union in May.

Blogs:

The indispenable Cosmocrat finds increasingly strong signs that the EU Constitution will be fundamentally re-examined by the Inter-Governmental Conference.

Gary Farber is back!

Stefan Geens blogs about The Wall Street Journal’s comments on Anna Lindh. He was pleasantly surprised, then quite unpleasantly surprised.

Juan Cole on Al-Qaeda’s new geostrategic masterplan