For several years now the European Union is discussing a possible enlargement, because several European countries have applied for membership in the EU. These are especially the former communist countries in Eastern Europe, that have clearly turned towards the west since the fall of the iron curtain. These countries are Bulgaria, the Baltic countries Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary.
Additionally Turkey, Cyprus and Malta are trying for quite some time already to join the EU. These application are not to be accepted without any further consideration because they do bring along some risks and the consequences are hard to distinguish therefore these countries are not very likely joining the European Union in the near future and will therefore not be included in the following evaluation.
II. Risks and challenges
If one wants to evaluate the risks and challenges of an upcoming expansion of the EU one should first take into account experiences gained during previous expansion which were somewhat comparable. Here the southern expansion from 1986 should be mentioned where two economically weak countries sought admission to the then so called European Community. The admission procedure of these two candidates, being Spain and Portugal, were lengthy and considered very problem bearing. Especially the amount of produce that would add to the already existing agricultural over-production of the Community was seen to be a problem since it would increase the load on the European budget.
But seen from a global economical perspective the joining of Spain and Portugal was overall positive for the EC and the two countries, although Spain struggled with a further rise of unemployment and disparities within the Community were further amplified.
The disparities within the Union will most certainly increase when it comes to an eastern expansion, but the agricultural problem will not be an issue, because the candidates have not got their focus on agriculture, already because of their communist heritage which focused on industry rather than on agriculture or the tertiary sector.
In case of the approaching expansion towards Eastern Europe the Union will have to resolve several problems, the most severe being without any doubt the financial one that will go along with the extension, estimated to be €5 - €6 billion annually, just for the technologically underdeveloped agriculture in the new member states. The financial problem will also lead to a temporary discontent among the population of the existing members, since the financial load on the countries will cause budget cuts because the new members will undoubtedly belong to the payees rather than the payers. Especially the Mediterranean members, for instance Italy, Spain etc. fear cuts in their subsidies particularly the agricultural ones, and agriculture is already making up the biggest part of the EU’s budget.
Of course it is also to be questioned whether with the joining of economically weak countries the economies of the “richer” members are not weakened. What should be taken into consideration as well is the impact the joining will have on the population of the candidates, especially considering the rights they will gain when they are citizens of the European community. They do then have the right to settle and work anywhere within the community, this could lead to a large amount of people pouring into the old member countries trying to seek work there and make their living. And since most of the European countries are already struggling with high unemployment the high rates could be pushed up further and the discontent among the population could worsen, especially against the background of Neo-Nazis in Germany and other countries such as Britain or Italy. Off course this would only be a temporary problem, which would solve itself over time as the new members develop economically, but still this could prove to be a major issue.
Of course their comes also a minor problem along with the expansion, this problem being even more languages than the twelve, already being used, in which EU communications would have to be carried out adding to the already huge administrative body of the European Union and also causing further costs of the EU.
But because the expansion represents a political necessity one should also take into account the positive aspects caused by such a historic event. With the expansion the continent would take a huge step towards the ethnic integration within Europe, different cultures would be facing each other and could also profit from each other. Also the global competitiveness of the EU against the USA and Asia would improve and another step towards global peace would be undertaken.
III. Changes in administration
It is obvious that an expansion potentially including ten countries would not be feasible without fundamental institutional reforms.
For instance with the existing structure of the Union which allocates most of the power to the European Council, where each member state has one vote, it would be imaginable that smaller members would have a majority over the larger members. Except for Poland, which is by population comparable to Spain and would consequently be a large member, all other candidates are relatively small in size an population.
Another point is that with more than twenty members the decision finding and making process needs to be completely reconsidered, so it represents the actual size of the member countries in terms of population rather than giving each member a veto and especially one single vote. The existing voting and weighting system is also already making the decision finding process a painfully and lengthy one, another ten different opinions added to this would make it virtually impossible to come to an agreement that at least partially satisfies all members and is therefore being supported and not vetoed against.
A changed “legislature” would also keep the democratic thought that the entire EU is based on alive and not vanish it like the existing system.
What should also be pointed out is the fact that an increase in members could lead to new coalitions within the Union and also increase competition among the individual countries. There are even critics that fear that an eastern expansion could lead to a shift in power towards the reunified Germany, since the potential new members are already heavily bound and leaning towards Germany.
What should also be considered is a change in European agricultural policy, which should actually be reformed already. The system of milk quotas, subsidies etc. which subsidises an over-production in many areas, just not to infuriate the farmers, because smaller farms would not be able to survive without the subsidies and the entire face of the European primary sector would change is completely outdated. This system could definitely no longer be kept up with even more farmers to support.
IV. Successful without absorbing the new members?
It is obvious that this question needs to be answered with a clear no. The existing members of the EU are already being absorbed by it and they have all chosen this faith. The goals of the European Union do state the loss of sovereignty in the areas of economic and currency politics, the latter one already realized, also in the political areas of social politics, education, research, consumer protection, health and also environmental issues. Now one could argue how many of these goals need to be realized in order for the EU to be successful, from the British point of view for example the cooperation in economic issues and the creation of the single market have already been enough, considering their opinion towards the Maastricht treaty. If one would see it from the British point of view the EU could be successful without absorbing the new members, but since most other countries would like to see the above mentioned goals implied and would like to realize the dream of de Gaulle, Adenauer and others of “the United States of Europe”, the new members would surrender a huge part of their sovereignty and consequently would be absorbed by the EU, especially considering that they will join in a couple of years at the earliest when European integration will hopefully have advanced beyond the point it is today. Another point one could consider is what would happen if the European integration would further advance up to the point of the United States of Europe without any new countries joining. This would create another superpower alongside the USA and the then non-members would live in the shadow of the EU or whatever its name would be by that time and also be absorbed by the enormous power, in any terms, of their big neighbour just like the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico, even the entire Americas are by the USA. So the conclusion drawn by this could be that the central and eastern European countries would be better off in any case if they joined the EU even if they had to surrender much of their sovereignty.
(1) http://www.europa.eu.int/ (March 17th, 2001)
(2) http://idw.tu-clausthal.de/public/zeige_pm.html?pmid=26445 (April 5 th , 2001)
(3) Informationen zur politischen Bildung: Europäische Union (BpB, 1995)
(4) Microsoft Encarta 98
(5) Mittel- und Osteuropa auf dem Weg in die Europäische Union (Werner Weidenfeld, Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung, 1996)
(6) http://www.e-politik.de/beitrag.cfm?Beitrag_ID=559 (April 1st, 2001)
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