Tuesday

19th Jun 2018

EU still 'digesting' 2004 enlargement five years on

  • 1 May 2004 - celebrations in Brussels on the occasion of the EU's enlargement by 10 new member states (Photo: European Commission)

On 1 May 2004 the EU marked its biggest ever enlargement, accepting 10 new countries and bringing the number of member states to 25. Five years later, both "old" and "new" member states are still "digesting" the move, experts say, while prospects for future expansion look increasingly grim.

The 10 new member states – Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Cyprus and Malta – brought 73 million people to the union and moved its borders considerably further east.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

The European Commission says that the accession of these countries, most of them formerly part of the Eastern Bloc, has been an unquestionable success.

"EU enlargement has served as an anchor of stability and democracy and as a driver of personal freedom and economic dynamism in Europe," EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said during a speech in Berlin earlier this week.

In February, the commission published a report stressing the economic benefits enlargement brought to both old and new member states and saying that trade between them almost tripled in less than 10 years.

The bloc's executive has also encouraged old member states to scrap remaining restrictions to workers from the new countries insisting that "migration flows following the 2004 and 2007 enlargements have had positive economic effects in those countries which did not restrict free movement of workers."

On Friday (1 May) Denmark and Belgium lifted those restrictions, with Copenhagen also doing so for workers from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the bloc on 1 January 2007.

This left only Germany and Austria with barriers in place for the so-called EU-8 countries (workers from Cyprus and Malta have been exempted from the restrictions). By contrast, most old member states still have restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Institutional machinery works

The biggest enlargement in the EU's history also brought institutional changes, swelling the size of the three main EU bodies - the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council (the secretariat of EU member states).

This has not damaged the decision-making process, as some had expected, says Sara Hagemann, an EU institutional affairs analyst with the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC) think-tank.

"The decision processes [in all EU institutions] ...have not slowed down. There has not been a deadlock in the system, as some observers had predicted," she told EUobserver.

"The numbers of legislation adopted each year have actually, compared to the last few years, increased. So, one can say that the machinery is working and performing and meeting the demand for policy-making."

In terms of policy making, there has been no clear division between old and new, as neither group is a coherent entity. But some areas, especially where unanimity is required – such as justice and home affairs – have suffered as a consequence of the increase, according to Ms Hagemann.

"Research has shown that the numbers are low in terms of how much and how detailed legislation is provided from the EU level compared to what could be expected," in the justice field, she said, arguing that the Lisbon Treaty is a much needed tool for improving the new model bloc's functioning.

"It is not [simply] a political statement that the Lisbon Treaty has to go through."

Wanted: 'centre of gravity'

The last five years have changed the EU's political identity however, analysts argue.

"It's an EU of 27 member states, the dynamics are completely different," said EU affairs analyst Piotr Kaczynski from the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) think-tank.

The so-called Franco-German engine of the old EU setup is no longer "the centre of gravity" in the 27-nation bloc, he explained.

"Most of the questions between [German chancellor] Merkel and [French president] Sarkozy are now between France and Germany ...They are primarily Franco-German topics," Mr Kaczynski told this website.

"The centre of gravity has moved and we are looking for it ...This means that we have an inflation of summits – micro-summits, different groups meeting in different forms and different formulas, there are lots of government to government meetings. We have really multiplied levels of governance."

A report released earlier this week by the Open Society Institute-Sofia think-tank to which Mr Kaczynski also contributed, said that the EU agenda would look rather different from what it does today if the "new" member states were setting it alone.

The report, called Not Your Grandfather's Eastern Bloc, argues that EU expansion and economic liberalisation would be pushed further if the "new" states were the agenda-setters.

"If these countries had more clout, Europe would adopt Lisbon Treaty and grant membership to Croatia and Serbia in a matter of months, consider membership for Ukraine and Moldova, pursue more robust economic liberalisation, and take a 'Nato-first' approach toward European defence and security," it says.

"Despite the economic crisis, these countries would keep state protectionism at bay and fully liberalise labor markets."

Still digesting

The EU has not yet reached the point where the new member states can be the agenda-setters, however, both because those countries' governments are still too focused domestically and because the bloc has not yet finished "digesting" the big-bang enlargement, Mr Kaczynski says.

In this context, enthusiasm for further enlargement has cooled in several European capitals. The Lisbon treaty deadlock and the economic crisis have exasperated this trend.

And while enlargement to candidate and potential candidate countries from the western Balkans is still seen just as a matter of time, expansion beyond, to countries like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia or even to EU candidate Turkey, is seen at the moment as unlikely in the foreseeable future.

"That [further enlargement] can only happen when digestion [of the latest enlargement] is over. When there is no long a question in the Eurobarometer 'how do you perceive the 2004 enlargement,' with the majority of western Europeans saying 'bad' and the majority of eastern Europeans saying 'good'," Mr Kaczynski said, referring to the EU's regular opinion poll service.

"As long as this is relevant, it means that digestion is not over. So, only when it's over, can you consider Ukraine and Georgia."

'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

At the first summit in 15 years with Western Balkan leaders, EU chiefs made it clear that enlargement is not at hand - but offered economic incentives to keep the region close to the bloc.

Analysis

Beyond macho: Turkish-EU ties

Turkey has belittled the EU in a week of macho posturing, but strategic relations go deeper than the rhetoric.

EU tells Moldova it is still corrupt

In an annual progress report, European Commission says "independence of justice, law enforcement as well as national anti-corruption authorities need substantial improvement".

Opinion

Appeasement will not work with Erdogan

As EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker meet president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Bulgaria, their reluctance to use their diminishing leverage with Ankara means his dismantling of Turkey's democracy only speeds up.

News in Brief

  1. Report: EU to look at outsourcing asylum
  2. EU court orders Le Pen to repay EU parliament
  3. Commission needs time to assess German Dieselgate fine
  4. Merkel and Macron meet over migration and eurozone
  5. Salvini plans census of Roma communities
  6. Slovenia to take Croatia to court in border row
  7. Parliamentary setback over corruption in Romania
  8. Lords force new vote for UK parliament to influence Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  2. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  5. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  6. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  7. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  10. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  12. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us