Enlargement has often been claimed to be the most successful foreign policy of the EuropeanUnion (EU).
It is one of the most powerful policy tools that the European Union has used toextend peace, stability and prosperity. One of its most historic expansion was in 2004 whichsaw the accession of Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs). Through more andmore economic and political integration this development ensured for the western Europeandemocracies peace and stability and created a durable base for growth, prosperity and jobs.Thus the EU became an example of successful cooperation and integration with a highattractiveness for more states.Due to the cumulative enlargement, there have been a multiplication of the inherentcomplexities of EU governance which have affected some of the crucial dynamics governingthe 'search for consensus' on significant policy issues. Viewed as functionally problematicand increasingly difficult for the EU prior to 2008, the enlargement process is now on 'lifesupport' and 'flat lining' along a trajectory of 'frozen negotiating chapters' and mutual mistrusttoward (despite the promise made at Thessaloniki) an increasingly uncertain destination(Steven 2012:2).In light of these findings, recent developments in the EU and its neighbouring countries givereason to doubt whether the EU will be able to continue this successful policy into the future(see also Epstein and Sedelmeier 2008). First, this is because the EU is reluctant to extend amembership perspective to further countries.
According to its 2006 enlargement strategy, theEU will be ‘cautious about assuming any new commitments’ (Commission 2006). Inaddition, even existing commitments to Turkey and countries in Western Balkans have comeunder pressure from relevant member states. After 2004, ‘enlargement fatigue’ has been seenas the prevailing mood in Brussels, in many member state capitals, and among EU citizens.The emphasis on ‘integration capacity’, the exit options contained in the EU’s NegotiatingFramework for accession negotiations with Turkey, and the fact that future enlargements maybe put to a referendum in France and possibly other countries (such as Austria in the case ofTurkish membership) seem to indicate that new candidates for membership face moreuncertainty and higher hurdles than previous applicantsThe objective of this paper is to illustrate with four literatures on how academics haveinterpreted EU’s enlargement fatigue and its outcome on further integration. It will bedivided into three major parts.
The first will try to give a clear definition of the concept, thesecond will discuss how it has created stricter atmosphere for further enlargement and thethird will be the conclusion.Defining the concept: Enlargement FatigueAlthough Enlargement fatigue is not considered to be a new phenomenon it has howeverbeen a dominate discourse in major fields of EU activities. Szolucha (2010:5) defines thephenomenon as 'hesitance or unwillingness to grant EU membership to new states asexpressed in the interplay of "wideners" and "deepeners" in the context of an upcoming orjust finalized enlargement round'. O'Brennan (2014:225) tries to redefine Szoulcha approachby acknowledging that there is now ‘a qualitatively different dimension to the nature of theobjections raised by those EU actors who seek to defer, discourage or obstruct enlargement tothe Western Balkans’.
He goes further to say that there is a normative as well as interest-based objections and, in particular, the sense that the EU has already reached its optimumabsorption capacity and institutional limits.As earlier stated, enlargement fatigue is not new to the EU but it was however not describedas such. The first trace of it was the slowing down of the enlargement process which forcedpolicy-makers within the EU to seek alternatives to offering full membership to those stateswith candidate or potential candidate status. A similar patterns and impulses can be tracedback through significant longer periods of time in EU enlargement history. From the earliestdays of the European Communities, the relationship between potential 'widening' and'deepening' of the 'club' was a matter for sometimes heated debate O'Brennan (2014:223). Inthe 1960s, France twice rejected the membership bid of UK.Enlargement fatigue only properly entered the European political lexicon, in the wake of thedramatic failures of the French and Dutch referendums on the Constitutional Treaty in 2005.Moreover, the manifestation of enlargement fatigue in the rejection of the ConstitutionalTreaty in France and the Netherlands in 2005 was to a great extent impacted by theunpopularity of national governments in these countries as well as the perception that theywere increasingly impotent to tackle the pressures that arise from globalisation (Palmer2005).
Many analysts have also pointed to the perception of the EU as undemocratic and fearof further migration as reasons for the failure of the two referenda. The issue of EUenlargement to Turkey further strengthened the fears about whether the social welfaresystems and employment rates in the EU's most affluent countries would survive potentialstrains following the Union's expansion. The French also feared that with the support of the'atlanticist' countries in Central Europe, the EU would adopt a policy to pursue a more Anglo-Saxon vision of the free market.The seismic shock represented by the rejection of these twin referendums called out forscapegoats, and the recently completed 'big bang' enlargement – symbolized by the ubiquitouspresence in 'old' Member States of the 'Polish Plumber' – seemed a good place for many tobegin in explaining the public rejection of the European project. Similar arguments wereproffered in Ireland after the defeat of the Lisbon treaty referendum there in 2008. But in allthree cases, post-referendum opinion polling demonstrated conclusively that enlargementhardly featured in the voting calculus of citizens.
Even so concerns about the EU's 'absorptioncapacity' (defined as the EU's ability to absorb new members whilst maintaining themomentum of the European integration process) began to feature regularly in debate aboutfuture expansion, especially after the European Council requested the Commission to re-visitthe Copenhagen Criteria and re-evaluate the Union's 'absorption capacity' against futurecommitments. The various issues connected to fatigue gained increasing prominence inmedia coverage of the EU, and this gradually began to seep through into real world politicalassessments of the merits of further expansion.Academics, however, seem to embrace the general view that the EU is nowadays “exhausted,leaderless and somewhat unwelcoming” (Barysch 2006b:119), and that these are thesyndromes of the enlargement fatigue.
The exhaustion is a consequence of accommodatingthe two last enlargements, an indifferent or opposing public opinion which paired with otherexternal challenges supposedly piles up to an unmanageable amount of work for theorganisation (Barysch 2006b).Enlargement Fatigue and Future IntegrationEnlargement has traditionally been viewed as a space where national interests would be morereadily set aside than in conventional EU settings: the normative dimension of the processlaid claim to a more community-oriented and solidaristic approach to decision-making. Butthat approach now has to contend with a much more assertive and muscularintergovernmentalism and the sometimes naked pursuit of national interests by self-regardingnational actors within the Council.In the context of enlargement fatigue, the meaning of conditionality is presented as a device,the rigorous application of which ensures that enlargement “remains a success story” (Rehn2006b).
It has focused on the preparedness of the candidates to join the EU so that theUnion's smooth operation is not impeded; the Copenhagen criteria, Agenda 2000 and theacquis were the main reference points in this area. More frequently, however, the failures ofconditionality have reverberated in broader contexts. Bulgaria is an example of this.Although fighting corruption was a pre-condition for membership, in 2008 three streams offunding were suspended because of alleged fraud and the EU’s investigating agency is alsoconsidering forty-five cases of alleged malpractice on the books (Miller 2008). Earlierentrants, such as Poland and Hungary, also provide examples of the failure of conditionalityto be applied because although there may have been a legal harmonisation as aprecondition for membership, actual implementation of parts the EU’s acquis is oftenlagging; for example, the requirement of the European Social Dialogue that governmentsshould “conduct meaningful consultation with socioeconomic stakeholders” has not beenadhered to (Sissenich 2007:4).
The broader contexts in response to these examples includea necessity, on the part of recent entrants and prospective members, to prove that theyare worth the trust that was laid upon them by the incumbent EU member states who offeredthem membership, or the prospect of membership, despite the reality of enlargement fatiguefuelled by the potential improper use of EU funds or the imperfect implementation of policieswhich could compromise the common values and norms to which newcomers were tosubscribe wholeheartedly to as a justification for their joining of the EU. If money is wastedand rules are not obeyed, it would betray the efforts that the incumbent members made inorder to make enlargement possible and spread discontent about the drawbacks that furtherenlargement would likely create. This, in turn, could encourage a Europe-wide revival ofnationalism and protectionism and make the ideal of European integration redundant. Thisnegative scenario has not as yet materialised and it is unlikely that it will because the EU hasbeen tightening its instruments of conditionality. Significantly, all mechanisms ofconditionality from the ENP that is often treated as an instrument for pre-accession (Hayoz,Kehl and Kuster 2005), to the actual accession negotiations lean towards open-endedprocesses of closer integration with the Union.The multilateral and more or less pluralist framework of enlargement conditionalitychampioned by the Commission now has to contend with sometimes uncompromisingnationalist Member State demands. The weakened influence of the Commission has carriedthrough from the larger integration process to the enlargement domain and encouraged someMember States to insert bilateral conditions where previously this approach would have beendeemed inappropriate behaviour.
The Council, rather than the Commission, is increasinglysetting the 'benchmarks' for delineating progress in accession talks, thus largely determiningthe pace at which negotiations proceed’ (Rosa ;Corina 2012:3) Creeping nationalizationconstitutes both a cause and an effect of enlargement fatigue. This more latentintergovernmentalist and politicized mode of enlargement decision-making was alreadyevident as Slovenia made maritime territorial demands of Croatia. It can also be evinced inthe continuing Greek objections to FYROM's name, the French posture toward Turkey on theArmenian genocide, Hungarian and Romanian demarches against Serbia and the Cypriotrefusal to allow the EU open up further chapters with Turkey after 2006. In 2009, whenAlbania submitted its membership application, Germany indicated that it would wait for theformal approval of the Bundestag before asking the Commission to formulate an opinion onAlbania's application. In December 2011, the Council delayed its response to Serbia'smembership application until March 2012, requesting Serbia to further substantiate and fulfilthe conditions set for it (ibid:3) In 2013, once again the Bundestag insisted on the opportunityto make further assessments of Serbia's cooperation with Kosovo before negotiations withBelgrade could be formally instituted in January 2014. All these examples indicate the extentto which the enlargement process has been removed from its own internal rational andnormative decision-making space and subjected to overt and dangerous politicization.In addition, it was said that the admission of twelve new members had strained theinstitutional capacities and the possibility of any ‘real' discussion in the Union. One may goas far as to speculate that the “period of reflection” following the three failed referenda inFrance, the Netherlands and Ireland and which is expected to terminate when the LisbonTreaty is ratified by all EU members, is a comfortable temporary pseudo-substitute forenlargement fatigue.
It allows EU officials to postpone any questions of further enlargementsuntil there is an agreement about how the Union is to function in the coming years. for thesake of its own institutional stability and external coherence, the EU simply could not affordthe accession of any more institutionally weak ex-Communist East European States.' 3Within the 'old' Member States, there were increasing calls to limit further enlargement, atleast until the Lisbon treaty provided the institutional means to cope with additionalmembers.Furthermore, Member-states' hesitance or open hostility to enlargement are also due tonational interest as was experienced earlier in the EU. De Gaulle vetoed the UK's entrancetwice in 1963 and 1967 as he saw it as a threat to the French leading position in the Union aswell as to the mode of operation of the entire organisation due to Britain’s imperial tradelinks and its close transatlantic relations with the USA.
In 1977, François Mitterrandexplicitly expressed his reluctance towards the prospects of Greek and Spanish membershipand said that “aaccession is neither in their interest nor is it in our interest. Interim steps aredesirable” (ESI 2006). In fact, today's cries of the structural incapacity to admit new membersand forecasts that a further enlargement would lead to a major economic or other catastropheinside the Union, repeat what had been said by many analysts in the mid-1990s (ESI 2006).ConclusionThe EU may not be able to deal with the fatigue for years to come because all signs show thatthe former has not yet developed a new vision of the organisation.
It has failed to contest theparadoxes and real nature and essence of the problems connected with enlargement that weredetermined in this article. Finally, Brussels has not acknowledged a need for more flexibilityin its operation, especially in its ‘internal’ and ‘enlargement dimensions'. Consequently, theUnion has not entrenched this vision in its institutional design. Tight conditionality andattending to the Union's absorption capacity are not sufficient to deal with enlargementfatigue, much of which was associated with cultural, economic and psychological reasonsonly remotely connected with the European Union. The chance to minimise thepopular fears connected with further enlargements was wasted in the two failed referendabecause policy-makers too easily associated the real and possible shortcomings ofenlargement with the structural overhaul.
Countering of enlargement fatigue would be achallenging task and although the full story about EU enlargements is still to be told, theUnion has proved in the past that for an organisation with such historical variability and somany chronic imperfections, it is still able to achieve its most important goals.