In May of 2004, the European Union is set to take on the largest amount of members it has ever done so at one time. This will unarguably turn the EU into the largest single trading bloc in the world. The ten countries intending to join are mainly East European: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
As can be seen, this will balance the European Union a little more favourably towards the East. This huge enlargement of the EU will obviously create many opportunities and benefits for both existing members states and new candidates, but with an accession of this scale there are numerous hurdles and obstacles to clear, which will be examined.
The expansion will cost approximately ï¿½25 billion over three years. The EU will spend ï¿½40 billion, but new members will pay ï¿½15 billion altogether. This sum divided by 370 million, the population of the EU puts the cost of enlargement per individual at ï¿½66 or ï¿½45. Although some regard this as money they would rather put to a different use, it is important to remember that the cost of German reunification from 1990 to 1999 was ï¿½600 billion. According to opinion polls, 51 per cent of EU citizens support the enlargement, with 30 per cent strongly opposed to it. The facts from the outset provide no significant problem, aside from that of general apathy towards European institutions. This problem, incidentally, will diminish as Europe grows larger.
Aside from this each candidate must fulfil conditions known as the Copenhagen criteria. These bring guarantees of democracy, rule of law and human rights and demand a functioning market economy compatible with that of the EU. Over the past few years candidates will have adopted thousands of pages of EU law, known as acquis communataire.
The most obvious consequences of this enlargement are pleasantly the opportunities it will bring to the whole of Europe. The first is that it will create a more geographically representative (and therefore credible) European Union. The current member states of the EU are chiefly West European countries. Nine out of ten of the proposed states joining are Eastern European. This will balance the shape of the European Union well.
An unfortunate flipside of this is that such enlargement will stall the deepening process of integration and makes deepening more difficult to achieve, as there will be so much more to integrate yet again.
As well as the obvious economic benefits for the proposed states, there will be many for existing member states simply due to the influx of new trade within the Union. An example of this is Germany’s interest in the Czech Republic as the Czech vehicle company Skoda is now owned by the German company VolksWagen.
This widening of the EU is seen to lead to an inter-governmental body rather than the supranational. It greatly reduces Euro-sceptic worries of a European super state. However within most countries joining there are significant voices and groups which fear a loss of national sovereignty. This is always an issue where countries sign themselves to an inter-governmental body. It is felt by many that the adoption of European law is a loss of sovereignty, but it has been argued by some that sovereignty itself as a concept has much less meaning in today’s world, where inter-dependence is far more important than independence and autonomy.
This enlargement will create the largest single trading market in the world, which it is believed will in turn boost investment and employment, as well as increasing EU influence on the world stage. Added to this is the historical notion that Europe will finally be fully united after years of war, as well as the ex-soviet Baltic states being able to consolidate the political and economic transition which has gone on for over ten years. As French President Jacques Chirac said in December 2002 at the Copenhagen summit:
“One cannot but think this evening of the victims of the numerous wars of the 20th Century, the absurd deaths… the victims of anti-Semitism and racism, of all the catastrophes… and man’s folly.”1
Well spoken sentiments, however, have not been enough to curb the challenges and problems this enlargement has faced. The principal problem has been Turkey, which has been postponed from talks for two years, mainly due to concerns over breaches of human rights. As well as this the concerns are cultural and Geographical. Turkey borders the Middle East and is a secular Islamic country. Although these two factors are neither good nor bad it drags into question the direction the European Union wishes to move in.
For the ten countries joining in 2004, the fun has just begun. The details agreed in Copenhagen were set down in a six thousand page accession treaty. It details agreements in thirty areas of negotiations, ranging from the minimum size of laying hen cages to excise duties on cigarettes. On April 16th of this year the treaty will be signed by the 15 existing member states and the 10 future EU members in Athens, but it first must be ratified by the existing member states. Belgium has seven ratification procedures and could take a long time to do so.
In addition to all this, every prospective state must hold its own national referendum on EU membership. Malta is still divided on public opinion, as are some others. The plan is to start a cascade of referenda in Central Europe starting with Hungary, Slovakia, The Czech Republic and Poland. It is hoped that the success of these countries with high EU support will influence public opinion in other states.
Worries in the Baltic states of loss of sovereignty are high. This is because these countries only gained their independence from the USSR little over ten years ago. Referenda in this area are planned to be held on the 23rd August. This is an emotional day for the Balts, the annexation of their states in 1940 by Moscow in the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1940. It is hoped that the national mood will influence many.
A large problem that was faced with the ten prospective countries was that of Poland and a few others demanding larger sums of money in order to stop their farmer’s facing ruin. More negotiations took place and an extra ï¿½1.5 billion was given to aid the farmers of these countries.
The final problem is Cyprus. The island is still not reunified and it is only the Southern Greek Cypriot side which is internationally recognized and could be a part of the European Union.
These problems tend to pale in comparison to the advantages and opportunities which will be created for the new EU states themselves. Members will not have to pay tariffs and will have high access to all member states. They will also be protected from outside markets. Eight out of the ten joining in 2004 are emergent democracies. The transition from Communism to Capitalism is always very costly, and with EU membership far more investment will be put into these countries through the two European recovery funds, the ERDF and ESF. Although not a view I take myself, many call this a ‘reward’ for the ‘achievements’ of losing communism.
One of the most important things these smaller states will gain is a much higher international status. This breeds a stronger political status and more ‘clout’ at the higher level, for example the EU ambassador to the UN.
Whatever your views are on the European Union, if all of these obstacles are cleared, then on May 1st 2004, 10 more countries and approximately 750 million people will join the organization. This will hopefully mend the huge tear in Europe that the Cold War created, and improve the lives of many people.
‘History will at last catch up with geography’2
* Sakwa, R & Stephens, S. Contemporary Europe Basingstoke, 2000
* Harryvan, AG & van der Harst, J. Documents on European Union Macmillan, 1997
* Gilbert, F. The end of the European Era, 1890 to the present 4th ed. Norton, NY, 1991
1 French President Jacques Chirac, speaking at Copenhagen Summit, Dec 2002.
2 Lungescu, Oana. BBC Brussels correspondent, 2003.