The Problem with Enlargement

This blog post is the first in a series of posts that come from students of our Politics of the European Union undergraduate course. As part of the course, students were asked to write about an issue pertaining to European integration. The best blog posts have been selected to provide an opportunity to exceptional young scholars at UCD to contribute to the debate on the future of Europe, and to promote the insightful scholarship being undertaken at UCD to a wider public audience.


Marianne GrantThe next phase of European Union enlargement is set to be one of the most contentious yet. As is evident from recent clashes in the Ukraine, EU enlargement has the potential to provoke significant reactions from the Unions neighbours. As the EU approaches both Russian and Arab territory it is likely to experience more problems and it can be said that this will be a defining characteristic of a ‘new phase’ of European enlargement. This round has the possibility of being the most difficult, the most contentious and possibly most destabilising of all EU enlargements.

Not only will the accession of new states be a strain on the Union, it is also still dealing with repercussions from previous accessions. In particular, Romania and Bulgaria are still, seven years after accession, not meeting the standards of the Copenhagen Criteria with regard to judicial reform and corruption (Pop, 2014). The requirements for accession were circumvented in the cases of Romania and Bulgaria by a “special ‘cooperation and verification mechanism’” (Juncos, A.E. and Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N., 2013). The overlooking of the criteria when the countries acceded in 2007 has proven to be a lasting problem for the Union.

The next phase of enlargement will be particularly unique because, unlike previous enlargements where states had only to meet the Copenhagen Criteria, most of the current candidate and possible candidate countries have particular issues that need to be addressed. Described as a ‘creeping nationalization’ by Hillion (in Juncos, A.E. and Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N., 2013), current member states have increasing power over the accession of particular states. Most notable is the case of Kosovo, which is still not recognised by five member states (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain), but conversely has been offered talks on developing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) (Rettman, 2013).

In Montenegro the Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic, while compliant with Brussels in every other area, has pursued oppressive media control with Montenegro being placed 113th out of 179 in the latest Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index (Ivanovic, 2014). Most worryingly is that Montenegro has been discussed as the next in line for accession after Croatia (Ivanovic, 2014) and looks set to be a situation similar to Bulgaria and Romania. Iceland, as a peculiar case, applied for EU membership in 2009 (European Commission: Enlargement, 2014) but abandoned talks in 2013 due to issues over fisheries (Pop, 2013) but less explicitly over disputes with EU member states, the UK and the Netherlands over repayment of deposits lost in the Icelandic financial crash in 2008 (Juncos, A.E. and Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N., 2013).

However, one of the most contentious and peculiar of the candidate countries is Turkey. Turkey has been pursuing membership of the EU since 1987 (European Commission: Enlargement, 2014) and was only recognised by the Helsinki European Council in December 1999 as eligible for candidate status (Juncos, A.E. and Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N., 2013). Firstly, Turkey’s ‘European identity’ has been called into question (Juncos, A.E. and Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N., 2013) and member states Germany and Austria are reluctant to accept its accession at all (Mahony, 2013). Secondly, geographically Turkey is further east than the EU has ever ventured. The new borders created by Turkey’s accession would create innumerable problems. It would give the EU a direct border to Georgia and to Syria, both significant locations for Russian naval activities. Russia’s dominance in the Black Sea would be called into question and if recent events in the Ukraine are anything to go by, this could cause an outburst of violence in the region.

On another front, eastern Turkey juts deep into the Middle East, even sharing a border with the region’s easternmost country, Iran. Finally, there is the undeniable fact that Turkey does not even begin to reach the standards of the Copenhagen criteria. Disregard for human rights, violent police reactions to anti-government protests (Nielsen, 2013) and an intense crackdown on media freedom (Fox, 2014) are all in conflict with EU requirements. What is more, these issues have all occurred since EU accession talks began, questionable developments that leave one wondering why the EU would continue to pursue accession talks at all.

As the European Union comes into this new phase of enlargement it will face new and recurring challenges. Since its inception, the EU has been regularly enlarging, however it has come to a point where there is not only ‘enlargement fatigue’ but there are very little remaining ‘European States’ (a requirement for EU accession as per Article 237 of the Rome Treaty) (Juncos, A.E. and Pérez-Solórzano Borragán, N., 2013). As its stands, the EU is comprised of 28 states, a possible 33 should all ‘Candidate countries’ accede, and 36 if the ‘Potential candidates’ accede (European Commission: Enlargement, 2014).

The perceived democratic deficit within the EU institutions will only worsen with the accession of new countries with more diverse interests. This new and most likely final round of enlargement will test the strength of the European Union’s tradition of intergovernmentalism and cooperation in enlargement.

Marianne Grant is an undergraduate student at University College Dublin. She is interested in environmental and health regulation and in the autumn 2014 will start an M.A. in International Relations at Webster University, Vienna.

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