What’s the future of the EU enlargement?

According to a recent Eurobarometer measuring the citizens’ confidence in the EU in every country, surprisingly, Romania registered a sudden decline of the indicator from 60 per cent in 2010 to 46 per cent in 2011. Even if it is still above the European average of 38 per cent, this level of confidence ought to have explanations identifiable in the Romanian circumstances, if we note that some of the new members of the bloc have comfortable rates – Latvia 65 per cent, Bulgaria 60 per cent. It is also true that the countries that have been facing the severe current crisis and embarked on very tough austerity programmes, have also reported massive decrease: Portugal 30 per cent or Spain 28 per cent.This phenomenon of decreasing trust in the organisation is of European size and has been already visible for a while now. It comes, of course, from the management of the financial and economic crisis in the last few years, which has failed to bring afloat massively indebted states, while other ones, with a comfortable financial situation, feel dispossessed of the fruits of their efforts by the successive bail-outs of the laggards. A crucial question in this context – which addresses the very chances of its survival – is the one about the future of the EU enlargement. The post-Cold War era was characterised by a major enthusiasm about enlargement, translated to successive waves of enlargement from 12 to 15 in 1995, from 15 to 25 in 2004 and from 25 to 27 in 2007 – but what is called ‘the enlargement fatigue’ gradually settled in. This is a phenomenon that led not just to a  negative response from the Europeans public consulted in referenda on the EU Constitution in 2005 (France and the Netherlands), but also in a difficult reconfiguration of such a fundamental act in the shape  of the 2010 Lisbon Treaty. The ‘Arab spring’ also highlighted a few major strategic shortages of the EU neighbourhood policy, just as the competition with Russia over the common Eastern neighbourhood never had an adequate planning (although in that respect the recent developments in R. Moldova could be read as a positive sign of the attraction of the organisation for candidate countries). An interesting survey on the future of the EU enlargement was conducted by the French daily of international circulation and profile ‘Le Monde’ (March 16, 2012). A few of the opinions expressed by experts representing five relevant foundations and think-tanks are very helpful in identifying trends of future action for the whole of the European Union and sketch out the perimeter of the current continental reflection process in this critical area for the future of the organisation. For example, for Sami Andura, researcher with the ‘Notre Europe’ Foundation, the EU enlargement will be possible on the medium-term, although a decreasing trend of public support has been identified in the recent years. The situation has just started to take an upturn – Serbia’s case is mentioned, a country for which the accession prospects opened a few weeks ago, and the accession of Croatia next year – but the expert says the organisation should set its ‘new borders’. From this point of view, also considering the duration of accession talks averaging 10 years, the enlargement is a question on a medium term. The matter of Turkey’s accession – something which still divides the EU – is more down to Ankara, namely the process of ‘Europe entering Turkey’ should progress more than the opposite. As far as Socialist MEP Catherine Trautmann, with the ‘Jean Jaures’ Foundation is concerned, Europe is now at ‘the time of fragmentation’, the EU enlargement thus acquiring a significant historic dimension: it surmounts continental divisions. This process should therefore be conducted based on the coordinates of the ‘European social model in order to help bridge the existing divide. ‘Robert Schumann’ Foundation President Jean-Dominique Giuliani finds that, following the successive enlargement waves, the EU has not found a common foreign policy, hence the deserved influence on the international stage, the organisation being more the single market envisaged by Great Britain. He process of internal integration has been actually weakened by the external enlargement process, there being no common tax or defence systems – two key sovereignty areas. Quite a few states have chosen to opt out of the EU regulations, and that has loosened the organisation’s internal cohesion. Going down this road, faced with the challenges of the present, any further enlargement of the EU should be preceded by an internal general reform in key areas such as competition, competitiveness, monetary policy or development. In short, the applicant states will just have to wait. For Christian Lequesne, head of the Educational and Innovation Research Centre (CERI), the EU means solidarity, although some of its founding members – the Netherlands, France or Germany – show a certain amount of fear of the expansion of the current borders, unlike the newly admitted states that are more inclined towards a recuperation of Europe’s geographic borders. The EU enlargement will, however, mean a process of continental solidarity characterised by sharp objectiveness, with the actual integration of candidate countries taking place ‘without tricking reality’, ‘the Greek example being a lesson’ in that respect.It could be stated that the process of reflection on the further enlargement of the organisation has already started. Most opinions tend to favour the perpetuation of this process with conditions attached that would however make it effective, while strengthening the consistency of the organisation. One such condition that can be singled out calls for a deep internal EU reform that should facilitate its becoming a single international voice. This is one of the lessons learnt from the current financial and economic crisis, the one that has also questioned the continuity of the enlargement of the organisation

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