Monday 13. July 2020
#144 - December 2011


Enlargement Strategy 2011-2012 of the EU: A critical evaluation


On October, 12th the European Commission released its yearly communication on enlargement, stressing the potential of the accession process to trigger transformation in the candidate countries. However, a country-by-country analysis suggests a more nuanced picture. ‘Enlargement fatigue’ is also a factor that should be taken into account.


According to Stefan Füle, Commissioner in charge of Enlargement, the conclusion of accession negotiations with Croatia this year shows that EU enlargement policy has retained its “credibility” and its capacity to trigger “transformation” in the applicant states.


It is true that the prospect of joining the EU has been a strong incentive for political transformation and transition from communist to market economies in Central and Eastern European Countries in the 1990s. The EU had actively prepared the path for this transformation in determining the so-called Copenhagen criteria in 1993 - political, economic and legal/administrative criteria for membership that all states aspiring to EU membership must fulfil. It is also true that EU membership remains an aim that fosters changes in Western Balkan countries, albeit with differences from one country to the other. Mr Füle’s opinion should therefore be nuanced.


The Enlargement Strategy 2011-2012, country by country

The case of Croatia has been in reality a protracted process, following a border dispute with Slovenia and serious doubts over the way the country was combating corruption. Romania and Bulgaria, which were subject to similar difficulties, saw their entry in the EU delayed from 2004 to 2007. Corruption remains today a problem in both countries and their alleged incapacity to adequately monitor their borders was recently used by some Member States as a pretext to reject the entry of both Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area, although all technical requirements were met by both countries. The Commission has therefore drawn conclusion for future accession negotiations: it will open the Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and the Justice and Home Affairs chapters early in the process, contrary to what was done previously, when it was thought that these sensitive chapters should be kept for the later stages of the process in order not to stall it.


Turning to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the situation has been deadlocked for more than two years since the Commission issued a positive opinion to open accession negotiations. The delay is due to relentless opposition by Greece to the name of the country. The Commission could only reiterate this year its recommendation of opening negotiations, urging the Council to find a swift solution to the “name issue”.


Like other Western Balkan countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania are “potential candidates” (European Council, Feira, 2000; Thessaloniki, June 2003; Brussels, December 2006). However, an unstable political situation has prevented any substantial progress towards the recognition of Albania’s candidate statute, whereas Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet applied to the EU. The only positive step was that citizens of both countries were granted visa liberalisation to travel to the Schengen area in December 2010.


Serbia applied to the EU only two years ago. On top of the usual ‘conditionalities’ put forward to any candidate state by the EU, Serbia was required to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Only after Radovan Karadzic (July 2008), Ratko Mladic (May 2011) and Goran Hadzic (July 2011) were arrested could the Commission consider this condition as fulfilled. Against that background, the Commission this year recommended the granting of candidate status to Serbia. It can open accession negotiations provided that it normalises relation with Kosovo in line with the conditions of the Stabilisation and Association Process. This process was developed after the Balkan War to help stabilisation, the transition towards a market economy, and regional reconciliation, with the explicit prospect of finally achieving EU membership. However, the Commission’s recommendation falls short of Serbia’s expectation to open negotiations this year. The stated condition seems hard to implement since the country has made it clear that it considers Kosovo as a Serbian province, not as an independent country.


Talking about Kosovo, since five EU countries (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain) still have not recognised it, the EU can only help the country to progressively align its own legislation and political organisation to those of the EU. Bilateral discussions between Serbia and Kosovo also started earlier this year to foster normalisation between both countries, but tensions flared last summer and the situation remains far from stable.


Finally, Montenegro is the only country of the Western Balkans to confirm fully Mr Füle’s statement mentioned above. It was granted candidate statute last year and has managed since then to fulfil all seven requirements for opening accession negotiations. The Commission therefore now recommends opening such negotiations.


In the case of the two other candidate countries, Turkey has made no progress this past year, and accession negotiations are all but frozen, the Cyprus issue remaining the main stumbling block. Iceland is a special case. Having been a member of the European Economic Area for many years and being a member of the Schengen area, the country is already fairly well advanced in its integration process within the EU. Yet, difficulties lie ahead, especially in the domain of fisheries. Furthermore, support for EU accession by the Icelandic population itself is anything but certain.


“Enlargement fatigue”

Scepticism towards EU membership in a candidate country is also present in Croatia. It reached a climax in April this year when Ante Gotovina was condemned to 24 years in prison by The Hague Tribunal. This decision infuriated many Croatians, who consider Gotovina as a national hero. The outcome of the foreseen referendum on Croatia’s accession is therefore uncertain. It would not be the first time that citizens refused to ratify their country’s accession to the EU: Norway did it twice, in 1972 and again in 1994.


Account should also be taken of the way EU citizens themselves evaluate enlargement. According to Eurobarometer (spring 2011), 42% of EU citizens are in favour of further enlargement, but 47% are against. However, there are huge differences from one country to the other, the ‘new’ Member States being generally more supportive (especially Poland), whereas countries such as Austria and Germany are the least supportive. This underlines the so-called “enlargement fatigue” that has been acutely felt in the ‘old’ Member States since the 2004 wave of enlargement. There is also a difference between generations, since 59% of the 15-24 year olds support it, against only 32% of those 55+. Unsurprisingly, support is positively correlated with higher level education. However, persons who have a strong interest in politics are likely to be opposed to future enlargement (52% against, 42% in favour), whereas ‘only’ 40% of those who said they are not interested in politics say that they are opposed to it (42% of this category are in favour).


Altogether, though Mr Füle tries to take an optimistic view on enlargement, it is anything but a smooth process. Furthermore, Mr Füle seems to ignore the waning of support for enlargement, not only among EU citizens, but also among those of the candidate countries. This “enlargement fatigue” among citizens should be taken seriously and addressed adequately, since it could become a breeding ground for populist movements or inward-looking discourses within EU Member States, all trends which are very damaging for the EU as a whole.


Hervé Pierre Guillot SJ

Jesuit European Office



Successive Waves of Enlargement (EEC, then EU)

  • 1973: Denmark, Ireland, UK
  • 1981: Greece
  • 1986: Portugal, Spain
  • 1995: Austria, Finland, Sweden
  • 2004: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
  • 2007: Bulgaria, Romania
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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.