January 23, 2009
Between 1995 and 2007 the EU has almost doubled its membership, from 15 to 27 members, accepting more new member states than ever before within a very short time span.
This rapid expansion has not been preceded by the necessary strengthening of its institutional functioning, in particular its decision making capacity. Since 2004, the EU has found it even more difficult and time-consuming to arrive at the necessary compromises between increasingly diverging interests of member states. The addition of 12 new has only superficially strengthened the EU. Every new member state, small or big, enhances EU diversity, which is an enrichment but also a burden. Enlargement therefore has a price, which we have tended to ignore in the post – 1989 euphoria of European re-unification. So far it has hardly led to the hoped for strengthening of the EU.
Still, the EU continues enlarging as if it had not learned much from the experience of the last two waves. It has offered the seven countries of the Western Balkan, two of which can hardly be considered full-fledged stable states, a “European perspective”.
With Croatia, negotiations have been under way for three years, and there is hope they might be concluded by the end of 2009. It has granted Macedonia a status of “candidate country”. Montenegro has filed its formal request for membership in December 2008.
The accession process of the Western Balkan countries is likely to drag until 2020 and even beyond. That should suit everybody. Both the EU and the Balkan countries will need a lot of time to fully prepare.
The EU will have to digest the Lisbon Treaty, which is a “sine qua non” for any additional membership.
Its success is by no means assured: how effective will the “President of the European Council” be? Will he have political authority or be no more than a Secretary General with a more pompous name? Will the “High Representative” be strong enough to shape an EU foreign policy that deserves this name, against opposition from big member states? Will the Council make it a habit of voting on all Commission proposals? Will the Commission be more effective in “leading” the EU, with its membership due to reach 34 after the completion of the Balkan enlargement?
Since 2005, the EU is also negotiating on Turkish accession. It does so without much zeal, as the uneven progress of the Turkish and Croatian negotiations shows. It has opened only half of the more than 30 chapters and provisionally closed one. Cypriot and French opposition have prevented negotiations from progressing faster.
The chances for Turkey ever joining the EU are very uncertain. Neither EU nor Turkish citizens seem very keen. Both consider each other as strangers rather than future compatriots.
Turkey would have to wait well after 2020, and possibly after another Treaty change, before it might eventually join. Will a proud country like Turkey have the patience to “negotiate” some 15 years, even longer than the UK, with the risk of ratification failing in one or more member states? Has Turkey really understood that these “negotiations” concern only the terms at which it may accede and have little in common with traditional negotiations?
Turkey is a “big fish” for the EU, in terms historical and cultural baggage. It would the biggest country population-wise and accordingly claim an adequate say and status. Like the former communist member countries, it lacks a tradition of freedom, democracy, political compromise and the rule of law. Its record of human rights is anything but convincing. The military continue to have bigger political role than in any EU country, despite many efforts to rein them in. Last not least, Turkish troops continue to illegally occupy northern Cyprus, which the EU considers its territory, though EU legislation does not apply there.
For all these reasons, the EU and Turkey would be well advised to review their long-term relationship. Need it be a marriage, with the risk of frequent disputes and lack of harmony? Would a privileged partnership not also do?
Turkey is linked to the EU by a customs union. But there is still a lot of scope for intensifying mutual cooperation in many fields, from economic and monetary policy to foreign and energy policy.
Similar considerations apply to Ukraine and the three Caucasus countries, whose relations with the EU are much weaker than Turkey’s.
In conclusion, the EU should refrain from enlarging beyond the countries of the Western Balkans and reaching eastward beyond the Bulgarian and Rumanian Black Sea beaches. History shows again and again how armies and empires have perished due to over-expansion and weakening links between the Centre and the Periphery. The EU should draw the appropriate lessons. Its present size enables it to play a much bigger role in the world; provided it starts effectively bundling its forces. As long as member states are unwilling to strengthen the EU at the expense of their own powers, the “acquisition” of more territory is likely to weaken the EU, which cannot be in Europe’s interest.Author : Eberhard Rhein