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16th Jun 2019

Financial crisis slowing enlargement, Prague warns

  • Enlargement day 1 May 2004 in Brussels (Photo: European Commission)

Despite "fatigue" setting in amongst EU member states as a result of the ongoing economic crisis, the process of enlargement of the bloc should not be neglected, the Czech deputy prime minister, Alexandr Vondra, said on Wednesday (18 February).

"Yes, there is an enlargement fatigue among some member states ...Of course, you know, everybody is now concentrating on the crisis," Mr Vondra, whose country currently chairs the EU, said at a conference organised by the Brussels-based European Policy Centre think-tank.

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"Still, it is our responsibility and it is of strategic importance to keep the process somehow moving, because otherwise [we would be] sending bad signals."

Enlargement is among the priorities the Czech EU presidency – to run until the end of June – has put on its agenda.

But the pace of the process has slowed down in recent months as several other issues, most notably the global financial crisis, attract much of the EU's attention.

Additionally, some candidate countries face blockages due to political disputes with individual EU states.

The border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia, which provoked Ljubljana to block the opening or closing of 11 chapters from Croatia's EU accession negotiations package in December, is only the most recent such dust-up.

"I think we should do our best to fix the problem and thus to continue and finalise the accession process [of Croatia]," Mr Vondra said, stressing that Prague was "in full support" of the European Commission idea to set up a mediation group to help solve the border issue.

"In general, Croatia is a country that belongs to the community - I go there almost every summer," he added. "It has a strategic value."

Enlargement is good for you

Meanwhile, the European Commission will on Friday publish a detailed report on the benefits of the EU's two latest enlargements - in 2004 and 2007 - taking in a total of 12 member states.

"The new member states - through their sheer number and dynamism - have made the EU stronger and culturally richer. The enlargement process has helped build and consolidate democracy after the demise of the Communist regimes," reads a draft commission communication on the issue.

"It has strengthened European security ...It has greatly boosted the economies ...[and] strengthened the economy of the union as a whole, through the advantages of integration in a larger internal market," continues the paper, seen by EUobserver.

The document lists economic benefits such as income and trade growth, as well as job creation levels of around 1 to 1.5 percent per year since 2004 in both the old and new member states.

"Five years on, the EU is better positioned to face increased global competition and to take a leading role in the world economy and its governance," it concludes, while also stressing that "full integration of national economies and income convergence" has still to be achieved.

For its part, the Czech Republic - one of the 10 countries that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 - is organising a conference in Prague on 2 March "to show in time of troubles how enlargement has contributed to the well-being" of both "old and new" EU member states, Mr Vondra said.

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