January 20, 2014
At the December 2013 European Council Meeting, EU heads of government pledged to pursue the enlargement of the EU and the eurozone.
The list of candidates is quite long. The next challenge for the EU is the accession of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo – six small, mostly multinational countries of the Western Balkans, with a total population of about 20 million.
None of these is presently ready for membership.
They are among the poorest countries in Europe. Their membership will therefore widen the income gap within the EU with the problems that this entails for the budget and migrant flows. But these problems are relatively easy to overcome, considering the small numbers involved.
It is their poor governance records that constitute the biggest hurdle. None of the six countries has a confirmed experience with democracy and the rule of law. All of them have been marked by one-party governance and corruption continues to be a big problem in most of them.
Add to this “nationalist” mentalities and too little experience in elaborating compromises, which makes good government difficult.
These barriers will render a smooth integration into EU governance structures difficult§. Before the countries have not resolved them they should not be considered mature for membership.
On its side the EU will have to prepare for an efficient functioning with 33 member countries of more different levels of governance and economic standards. It will no doubt need a substantive treaty revision.
Whatever the tininess of the applicant countries, with the exception of Serbia, their membership will affect the functioning of the EU.
This impact risks being blurred if the candidates joined according to their individual readiness.
The EU should therefore opt for a “big bang”, even at the price of keeping one or two more advanced countries for a few more years in the waiting room.
By jumping to 33 member countries in a single operation the EU will be forced to overhaul its structures and undertake the necessary treaty changes.
The European Council should therefore launch the procedures for Treaty revision in the hypothesis of the six Balkan countries joining around 2025.
This revision should aim at creating an efficient, flexible and democratic entity able to define European policies, defend its interests abroad.
It should address sensitive points like voting rights of member states, members of consultative institutions, or a re-transfer of certain policies to member states.
Above all, it must turn the EU into ‘light machinery’ that avoids dealing with everything.
It should therefore go along with a broad public debate on the “Future of Europe.”
These considerations also apply to the euro zone.
All EU countries, with the exception of UK and Denmark, are legally obliged to membership of the euro zone.
But they should not go too fast. Consolidation must have priority over expansion. The capacity of new euro zone members to live up to budget/debt discipline and competitiveness need to be probed at more depth than in the past.
Lithuania wants to join in 2015, which does not seem to pose any problems. Poland and the Czech Republic have expressed the desire to go slowly. Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria may not be ready much before 2025 and it might take until the early thirties before every new member state will be ready.
The European integration is a secular enterprise process that requires a long breath.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 13/01/2014
Author : Eberhard Rhein