Tuesday

21st Nov 2017

Brussels to urge 'major' PR drive on EU enlargement

  • Absorption capacity, assimilation capacity or functioning capacity? (Photo: CE)

The European Commission is next month set to call upon EU leaders to launch a "major communication effort" on enlargement - but Brussels itself is struggling to find the right wording to convey the bloc's expansion more positively.

The commission is currently preparing itself for a highly sensitive debate on enlargement with EU leaders, with the topic to be the dominant theme at their December summit.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Reflecting the current enlargement fatigue felt by EU public opinion, national governments in June tasked the commission to flesh out a special report on the union's own readiness to welcome new members – known in EU jargon as "absorption capacity" – due out on 8 November.

But commission officials said on Tuesday (3 October) that Brussels will tell EU leaders that they themselves have the prime responsibility for convincing an enlargement-weary public.

The commission's enlargement director general, Michael Leigh, told an audience at the European Policy Centre on Tuesday that Brussels will call for a "major communication effort."

"There is an important effort of explanation to be made...we will deal with this issue in the report on 8 November," he said with other commission sources saying Brussels will demand "leadership" on the issue from member states.

"The EU is more than just Brussels. Everyone has a responsibility to explain enlargement, not just future enlargements but also previous rounds," said one official.

The planned appeal to member states comes after the commission appeared last week to have adopted a more cautious approach towards EU expansion itself, with commission president Jose Manuel Barroso announcing a freeze on enlargement until the bloc has sorted out its own institutional problems.

What capacity?

Meanwhile, commission officials are struggling to find the right wording for the report on "absorption capacity" – and are considering alternatives to the term "absorption capacity" itself.

"Absorption capacity", a phrase currently en vogue in EU politics, is often used to highlight the limited means the bloc has to expand, but it has gradually become a political synonym for negative EU public opinion towards enlargement.

"Maybe among the population the notion of absorption capacity creates a misunderstanding," one commission official said.

"It suggests that states merge with each other whereas in reality member states of course can retain their own culture and identity."

After an informal brainstorming seminar of the commission in April, senior commission officials had mooted the term "functioning capacity" as a "more accurate" term, primarily referring to institutional arrangements necessary to make enlargement work.

It is however unlikely that "absorption capacity" will completely disappear from the November commission report, with EU leaders sticking to the term in their June conclusions despite the commission's uneasiness with the expression.

"Perhaps it's better not to engage in a dogmatic squabble on wording which citizens are not interested in anyway," said one commission source.

France prefers yet another term

Meanwhile, not all member states are completely happy with "absorption capacity" as an expression either, with France preferring "assimilation capacity" instead.

"Absorption capacity makes you think of a swamp absorbing water," said a French diplomat.

By contrast, the union's "capacity to assimilate new members" would refer to both institutions and values, the contact said, explaining that "being European is a balance between what you used to be before becoming a member and being only European."

France opposes the term "functioning capacity" which only focuses on Brussels institutions and completely leaves the issue of public opinion aside.

"Enlargement has several dimensions including the perception by public opinion," said the diplomat reflecting the French population's strong signs of scepticism towards further expansion of the bloc.

Bulgaria calls for West Balkan EU integration after Brexit

The UK leaving the EU gives an opportunity to bring the Western Balkans closer, Bulgaria's PM said in Brussels. Bulgaria will hold the upcoming rotating presidency, while Juncker said Serbia and Montenegro will be EU members by 2025.

Turkey poised for first EU budget cut

"Turkey is going in a direction that is the very opposite of EU standards," Siegfried Muresan, the MEP spearheading the cuts, has said.

Italian regions demand autonomy from Rome

The Lombardy and Veneto regions in northern Italy are seeking greater self-determination from the central government following referendum results on Sunday.

EU summit shifts mood on Turkey amid aid cuts

EU leaders at their summit spent some three hours deliberating on relations with Turkey before asking the EU commission to come up with a plan on cutting and reorienting some €4.5 billion in pre-accession aid.

Turkey accuses Merkel of racism

Turkish foreign minister said German chancellor's call to end EU accession talks was "same rhetoric as racist parties".

News in Brief

  1. European Banking Authority will move to Paris
  2. EU court threatens daily fine over Polish forest logging
  3. EU medicines agency will move to Milan or Amsterdam
  4. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan in next round of EMA vote
  5. Three countries pull out of medicines agency Brexit race
  6. Schulz calls for new German elections
  7. EU Commission 'confident' on German stability
  8. EU adopts new border check rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!
  2. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  3. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  4. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  5. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  7. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  8. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  9. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  11. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  12. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017