The EU is suffering from 'enlargement fatigue'
by Justin Stares
With the Balkans about to be brought into the European Union fold, there are few other countries with a realistic chance of joining
Who will be next to join the European Union's list of candidate countries? When the mopping up operation in the Balkans is complete, there are very few real suitors left. After the recent green light from the European Council, Serbia is on its merry way towards full membership. Belgrade joins neighbour Montenegro as an approved candidate and negotiations with Montenegro are expected to start this summer. Albania, too, is fast approaching the EU's required standards, according to the European Commission. While currently a "potential candidate", Albania is expected to be the next country to make the approved list.
The more problematic Balkan states will also no doubt become members in the medium term. Macedonia, or more precisely the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is officially a candidate country - though its negotiation timetable has been held up by a name dispute with Greece. Kosovo and Serbia will have to kiss and make up at some point; Kosovo is a potential EU candidate. Bottom of the class for the moment comes Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to commission insiders, Bosnia is going backwards rather than forwards.
After which, the enlargement train looks likely to grind to a complete halt. The United Kingdom and others have promoted the candidacy of Turkey - but hostility in France, Germany and Austria is such that Ankara's chances must be close to zero. "Turkey is not always Europe's ally," says Jana Kobzova, a fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. "They took on the role of mediator with Iran without consulting the EU or the United States," Kobzova tells PublicServiceEurope.com.
Money and the free movement of people are the principal attractions for EU candidates. While Brussels has become less generous over time, the amount set aside for "pre-accession assistance" - €14 billion between 2014 and 2020 - is not to be sniffed at. Cash is on the other hand not an issue for Norway and Switzerland, whose governments are so rich they can afford to pick and choose the aspects of European integration they fancy - while remaining on the outside. Norwegian voters have made it very clear that they prefer things this way. Lichtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, Andorra and the Vatican City state - more suburbs than countries really - also gain from staying out. They are close enough to the EU core to reap the benefits of their tax-haven status. Tiny Iceland, despite its recent travails, is eligible to join if its people so desire.
Part of Russia lies in Europe. Could it one day join? Sadly not. Former commission president Romano Prodi said Russia was simply "too big" for the EU. He invented this previously unheard of membership criterion - population size - when politicians in Moscow began to express an interest. That leaves a few question marks hanging over countries that will probably never achieve full membership, though they do have an outside chance. Moldova could be absorbed easily by the EU, though Kobzova points out that this would set a precedent for neighbouring Ukraine. "Small countries like Moldova fall victim to the problems of their bigger neighbours," she says. Enlargement enthusiasts in Britain sometimes talk of Ukraine as a potential union member. But would member states want to give Ukraine's 45 million population access to their job markets and social benefits? While it would be in the long-term strategic interest of Poland to bring Ukraine into the family, the probability of any application succeeding is slim.
With Belarus stuck in the dark ages and Georgia's border problems much too unsettling, the list of potential candidates is almost exhausted. The remaining two European countries - Armenia and Azerbaijan - almost never get a mention. Contacted byPublicServiceEurope.com, a diplomat from Azerbaijan's EU embassy in Brussels laughs out loud when asked if his country is headed for membership. "Are you inviting us to join?" he says. After calming down, he continues, on condition of anonymity: "We are not ready for the EU and the EU is not ready for us. There is a lot of enlargement fatigue in Brussels". One of Armenia's foreign policy priorities is "integration with the European family", though it too has issues in Nagorno-Karabakh that Europe will not want to import.
Enlargement optimists in North Africa and the Middle East have suggested that the EU may one day expand beyond its geographic base. Morocco actually applied for membership in the 1980s. Enlargement of this kind is, however, considered by most to be a flight of fancy. Whereas the EU is in theory open to all democratic European countries, apart from Russia, there is another unspoken membership criterion: wealth. Poor countries are less eligible than rich countries. What does this mean for Scotland, should it secede from the UK? Nobody, not even Brussels insiders, knows the answer to this question.
EU enlargement 'part of solution to economic crisis'
Continuing to expand the EU's borders by admitting new countries is part of the solution to the region's economic crisis, Stefan Füle said yesterday – as he urged membership candidates to overcome so-called 'enlargement fatigue'