Analysis: Where Does Europe’s Enlargement End?

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
May 3 2004

Analysis: Where Does Europe’s Enlargement End?

By Luke Allnutt

(Click here to see RFE/RL’s “EU Expands Eastward” webpage.)

The European Union has always remained deliberately vague about where
its borders lie. Provided countries fulfill the 1993 Copenhagen
criteria — guaranteeing the rule of law, human rights, and respect for
minorities, as well as having a functioning market economy —
technically anyone can join. In the late 1980s, Morocco — with its
eyes on the market just 16 kilometers across the Straits of Gibraltar
— applied to join the union, only to be told it was not European

Following the accession of 10 mostly Central and Eastern European
countries on 1 May, one of the big questions is: Where next? If all
goes well, Romania and Bulgaria (and possibly Croatia) will join in
2007. In the event that they meet the demands of Copenhagen, the
remaining countries of the western Balkans and Turkey are probably next
on the list, perhaps sometime in the next decade.

After that, the choices become less palatable. Ukraine is still trying
to make the right noises, but its enthusiasm for reforms remains
laconic at best. Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, has a flimsy civil
society and a glacial pace of reform. It is burdened by Transdniester
— a pro-Russian breakaway region that is a lawless paradise for
gangsters and arms dealers. Belarus, hamstrung by the erratic populism
of autocratic President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and its unreformed
Soviet-style economy, is a particularly unattractive prospect.

Farther east, there are the countries of the South Caucasus: Armenia,
Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The latter’s “Rose Revolution” in November
brought the region back onto policymakers’ radar screens, but
subsequent tensions over the breakaway republic of Adjaria represent a
major step backward for Georgia. Armenia’s strongman president, Robert
Kocharian, has meanwhile responded ruthlessly to public demands that he
respect the courts and the ballot box. Azerbaijan remains isolated from
the European family over shortcomings like the continuing battle for
Nagorno-Karabakh, the government’s stubborn refusal to release
political prisoners, and a general lack of respect for democracy and
human rights. The stakes in the CIS are considerably higher, as those
former communist countries are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” With
that in mind, it is difficult to imagine these countries joining the EU
in anything less than two decades.

That is not necessarily a gloomy prognosis. John Palmer, the political
director of the Brussels-based European Policy Center, thinks that
after the countries of the western Balkans get accepted, “we might see
the end of classic enlargement.”

The recurring nightmare for many European politicians is that the
inclusion of dubious democracies would seriously discredit the
union.That could usher in a multispeed Europe — one that allows for a
certain amount of differentiation. European politicians have always
balked at the term, for all its connotations of a Europe divided
between dunces and high-flyers. More recently it has been seen as
French President Jacques Chirac’s Plan B — an opportunity for France
and Germany to forge ahead with an inward-looking European agenda after
the failure of the European constitution talks late last year.

Yet a multispeed EU might be the only way the union can expand further
while maintaining the standards laid out in the acquis communautaire
and not overstretching the purse strings of the richest member states.
The recurring nightmare for many European politicians is that the
inclusion of dubious democracies — like Moldova or Ukraine — would
seriously discredit the union. The EU would become an ailing franchise,
the political equivalent of a fast-food giant letting any old greasy
spoon hang its global logo above the door. Even the Eurovision song
contest would garner more respect on the international stage.

Early signs of the EU’s willingness to embrace differentiation can be
seen in the Wider Europe program, which is a framework for countries in
the western NIS and southern Mediterranean who will soon find
themselves sharing a border with the union. Countries in the Wider
Europe program have been offered the prospect of full participation in
the EU’s market and its four fundamental freedoms — goods, capital,
services, and, eventually, people — provided they adhere to certain
core values and show concrete progress in political, economic, and
institutional reforms. The ethos of the program is “Integration, Not

In the future, if the EU abandoned its open-door policy, states on the
fringes of the union would not become full members of the union, but
there would be some elements of shared sovereignty. Europe might become
what has been termed a “union of concentric circles,” with an inner
core that accepts the acquis communautaire in full, monetary union, the
Common Agricultural Policy, and then wider circles of countries
accepting decreasing levels of commitment.

Europe a la carte exists already to some degree, most notably with the
single currency, and the European Policy Center’s Palmer says these
types of ad hoc alliances and groupings will become more common.
Countries will club together and pursue various shared policy

There are several significant problems with such a differentiated
approach. The first, according to Jonathan Lipkin, an analyst for
Oxford Analytica writing for, is “how overlapping
coalitions of states could find a way to put in place coherent and
effective administrative and enforcement mechanisms.”

The second is that prospective partners, or members, might not go for
an “accession lite.” Anything less than full membership “just doesn’t
do it for these countries. It’s not enough,” says Gergana Noutcheva, an
enlargement expert at the Center for European Policy Studies in
Brussels. And as financier and philanthropist George Soros wrote in a
syndicated column for Project Syndicate in March, “The most powerful
tool that the EU has for influencing political and economic
developments in neighboring countries is the prospect of membership.”

Further expansion will also require a good deal of housekeeping. The
brouhaha about the draft constitution in December illustrated the
shortcomings of the decision-making process within a larger union.
Without reform, the situation would only get worse. “The bigger the EU
gets, the national veto will become more a source of paralysis,” Palmer
says. That means the union will have to rely more heavily on qualified
majority voting (QMV) in the future.

The likelihood and extent of further expansion (in terms of political
will and popular tolerance) will depend largely on how this most recent
wave goes. Enlargement fatigue has already set in. The richest EU
states are worried about the cost of integration and are currently
sparring with the European Commission about capping the budget.
Europeans outside the Euro-elite tend to be lukewarm about EU
expansion. According to a November Eurobarometer poll, 54 percent of
the French public opposed enlargement.

It would only take a few high-level scandals (diseased Slovak chickens
or embezzled structural funds earmarked for a children’s hospital in
Poznan, perhaps) for the mood to swing further against enlargement.
Britain’s recent backpedaling over migration after a few scaremongering
stories in the tabloid press about the imminent arrival of
job-stealing, welfare-sapping Eastern Europeans showed the impact that
public opinion can have on government policy.