The Enlargement of the European Union

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The Enlargement of the European Union

Modern times are challenging the European Union with one of its greatest tasks to date. The issue of enlargement has become the key EU project for completion in 2002. The enlargement of the European Union to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEEC's) raises many issues of concern. In order to understand the problems facing both of the parties involved, it is necessary to first consider the background of EU integration and its recent trends.

Enlargement is the means by which national states concede to the transfer of sovereignty to supranational institutions and agree to invest in common policies within a customs union. In the current European case, this fundamentally is the development of the fifteen member state grouping to integrate up to as many as thirteen new member states into the union, ten central and Eastern European countries along with Cyprus, Malta and Turkey. This will enable the EU to span more than two-thirds of the continent in its entirety. At present, it is likely that around ten of these applicant countries will be successful in their bid to join. The next round of the EU enlargement, which is forecast between 2004 and 2006 approximately, is likely to contain six of the applicants. It will certainly have serious implications for the economic, political, social and military nature of the Union.

Of course the Union has undertaken enlargements previously, however none have been as large a step for Europe as the one scheduled. It is an innovative change in many ways, considering that the previous enlargements did not involve states as geographically, politically and economically diverse from the current members. Also each of the enlargements to date encompassed three or four countries at the most (Norway took part in the most recent enlargement, but rejected membership in a national referendum), so this enlargement is quantitatively groundbreaking also.

The origins of enlargement go back to the beginning of the Union, when Jean Monnet pioneered the idea of European integration in the early 1950's.The first ever enlargement of the EU took place in 1973 when Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom joined the original six EEC states. Greece was then awarded membership in 1981, followed by Portugal and Spain in 1986 and finally Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995.The most recent enlargement brought the total and present membership to fifteen states. None of these enlargements were without problems or controversy. For example, the UK only succeeded in joining in 1973 after having been rejected in its previous bids for membership by French President Charles de Gaulle, while the Spanish and Portugese accessions spawned conflicts over agriculture and the budget 1.

The move towards the impending enlargement began to gather pace following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, along with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The newly autonomous states wasted no time in portraying to the EU their aspirations to join Europe's elite in the union. When one considers how rapidly these major events transpired, it becomes clear that the EU handled the developments with remarkable speed and efficiency.

Enlargement means a great deal to the applicant countries, they envisage it to be part of their triumphant return to democracy after a gruelling forty years in the dark. The opportunity to join the thriving community of Western European states is a dream come true for the CEEC's who have suffered much, and they are united in their belief that they deserve the chance to prosper. The president of the Czech Republic heralded the developments as the 'return to Europe', this is indicative of the excitement generated by the current proceedings.

Although it was stated in the treaty of the European Union in 1992 that "Any European state may apply to become a member of the union"2, the first formal agreement that in principle the CEEC's could join the EU was made at the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993. It was also at this summit that the criteria required for accession to take place were finalised and made known to the applicant countries. To meet these requirements, many political, economic and cultural changes would have to be implemented.

The primary criterion was that of the constancy of stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.3 In contemporary Europe, this above all has to be displayed by the CEEC's in order to gain membership. Economic or financial problems can be forgiven and remedied much quicker and easier than shortcomings relating to a country's basic attitude toward democracy or human rights. Secondly, the existence of a functioning market economy needs to be established, as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the European Union. Finally, the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union (this criterion concerns adoption of the acquis communitaire) must be shown4, as well as the ability of the EU to absorb new members while consolidating the impetus of European integration.
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The adoption of these criteria poses significant questions for the CEEC's, they far outweigh those faced by the countries of the four previous enlargements. The acquis communitaire are ever-growing and constantly evolving standards, which now run to about 100,000 pages.5 They involve a body of laws, regulations and principles of the EU, the majority of which have to be adhered to by the applicant countries prior to membership. The Common Agricultural Policy is an example of one such area of the acquis that can't be adopted prior to accession.6 The CEEC's are sure to face problems in implementing ...

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