To Enlarge or Not to Enlarge the Union: That is Not the Question

To Enlarge or Not to Enlarge the Union: That is Not the Question

Theme: The problems experienced by the European Union have nothing to do with enlargement but with deepening.

Summary: In a considerable number of European capitals the possibility is being discussed of closing the doors of the European Union to new members as part of a possible solution to the constitutional crisis.In France, specifically, but also in Austria and other capitals, this issue dominated the drafting of the conclusions of the European Council held in Brussels on 15-16 June.However, the argument put forward in this analysis is that the problems experienced by the Union have nothing to do with enlargement but with deepening.Accordingly, closing the doors to new members will not solve the Union’s problems, and neither will definitively setting the Union’s borders help to define the European political project.The analysis concludes by affirming that, instead of diverting attention to enlargements that are in no event imminent and continuing to blame new members for constitutional ills for which they are not responsible, European leaders should use their energy to complete a process of integration which, due to a combination of short-sightedness and weakness of will, has already reaped ten years of failure.


Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc:The Fallacy of Enlargement
On 1 May 2004, the Union admitted ten new members.Since then, nothing has gone well in Europe:to begin with, there was a massive abstention in the elections to the European Parliament held in June 2004; subsequently, in May and June 2005, France and the Netherlands voted against the European Constitution, thus ditching the constitutional project.The question is:whenever something happens after having taken a course of action, is the latter the cause of it? Obviously, this is what a large number of European leaders seem to believe when, day after day, they attribute the blame for all the ills of the Union to enlargement and, accordingly, tend to propose solutions that include closing its doors to new members (without forgetting how, sotto voce, they fail to conceal their satisfaction for a postponement of membership by Bulgaria and Romania, expected for January of 2007).

However, a time sequence does not necessarily imply a cause and effect relationship between two phenomena.We are confronting a fallacy (post hoc, ergo propter hoc) of which our leaders should be made aware.Indeed, enlargement –along with the monetary union– is the best thing the EU has done in the past ten years.All economic studies coincide in underlining the economic benefits for both parties brought about by enlargement, in terms of both trade and investment.[1]

At the same time, the feared mass migration from new members has in no event entailed a burden on national employment markets. Rather, it has been a major asset which has enabled countries such as Spain, the UK, Ireland, Greece, Finland and Sweden to eliminate restrictions on the free movement of workers from new members to the EU.[2]

Similarly, the fact that increased delinquency and organised crime has more to do with the disintegration of the Balkans (from Albania to Kosovo and Serbia-Montenegro itself) than with the new members proves that enlargement allows us to fight these phenomena efficiently, and in no way aggravates them.Soon, we hope, some new members will sign the Schengen agreements, thus widening the scope of the European area of freedom, security and justice.And although the eurosceptics in Poland and the Czech Republic are now in power, public opinion in those countries maintains its firm belief that Europe is the solution, not the problem.

The fact that Slovenia’s acceptance into the monetary union (along with the controversial ‘no’ to Lithuania based on a few inflation decimals) passed unnoticed, is a great injustice:enlargement of the euro zone, along with the excellent data on economic growth in the new member States, proves that they are in a position to contribute loyal and supportive economic growth and political enthusiasm to the EU, to do so in a record time and, in addition, to do so while the old member States ostensibly flounder in their efforts to deliver on the Stability Pact.Is it not an excellent metaphor that the Financial Times speculates on Italy’s withdrawal from the euro while reporting on Slovenia’s impeccable observance of criteria for access to the economic and monetary union?

Thanks to enlargement, Europe today is an area of peace, liberty and safety unparalleled in history.The dark predictions made at the beginning of the nineties over the war in Yugoslavia, the disintegration of the former USSR, the surge of nationalism, ethnic tensions, economic crises and inter-State rivalries are a thing of the past.And all this for an absolutely ridiculous price:less than 0.5% of the EU’s GDP, which will be applied to cohesion policies in the ten new members during the period 2007-13, compared with the astronomical sums spent during the Cold War to preserve the status quo following the Yalta Agreement with the USSR.Where the EU could not or did not become an incentive, 200,000 deaths, the shame of Srbenica and a trail of failed States bear witness to the worst possible scenario that can be created by the lack of leadership.

Finally, studies that assess the impact of enlargement on EU institutions emphasise that in no event has there been an institutional collapse.The European Commission, in particular, has absorbed the increase in the number of its members to 25 relatively well, and the same can be said of the incorporation of new members in the European Parliament.The European Council has more grey areas, but there is a significant nuance:its legislative functioning has not been impeded by enlargement nor by the rules of the Nice Treaty, although this does occur with its functioning as an executive or decision-making inter-governmental forum.[3]

The most plausible hypothesis to explain these differences is related to the form of decision-making:when majority rule allows the possibility of voting (in the Commission, in the Parliament and in the Council –when the latter acts in a legislative capacity–) decisions are speeded-up, regardless or whether a vote is taken or not.But when the rule is unanimity, an increase in the number of members naturally entails an additional difficulty in its functioning.However, the lesson is evident:enlargement makes it impossible for the Council to continue to act as an inter-governmental forum governed by unanimity.However, a legislative forum with 25 members has more than enough margin to increase in number if a majority rule is applied.This is precisely why the European Constitution transferred the decision on a large number of matters from unanimity to a qualified majority, and included them in the legislative sphere (along with the European Parliament).

‘Absorption Capacity’:ATricky Debate
Gathered in a magnificent Austrian castle in Klosterneuburg during the weekend of 27-28 May, the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the EU speculated at great length on the future of Europe.However, it would seem that these country weekends tend to encourage European leaders to wallow in their custom of not seeing the wood for the trees:not a substantive word was said of the European Constitution, which all Governments had signed in Rome in October 2004; only good intentions were mentioned with regard to next year’s German Presidency’s plan to prepare some proposals for debate.Accordingly, the ‘time for reflection’ (a euphemism used in the European context to designate the time between the referendum in France in May 2005 and the presidential elections in 2007) will remain on a rather distant horizon:the European elections in 2009.

However, it does seem that in Klosterneuburg a diagnosis and prescription were given in relation to future enlargements:according to the French Minister for European Affairs, Catherine Colonna, the Union should tighten up access conditions for future members as part of the response to the constitutional crisis.This officially confirms the position France has been working on during the past six months (proof, in turn, of its historical discomfiture with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the enlargement of the EU which dates back to 1990-91) in the sense of holding enlargement responsible for the failure of the Constitution in the referendum and, accordingly, seeking acceptance for this new closed-door policy by the European Council in June.

This position was explicitly addressed in a speech by the French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, on 27 January, at the conference organised by the Austrian Presidency in Salzburg regarding the future of Europe.There, Villepin affirmed that enlargement had not been sufficiently prepared and that its institutional and economic costs had aroused hostility among many citizens.Of course, Villepin did not base these affirmations on any public opinion poll:in both the special Eurobarometer carried out by the European Commission immediately after the referendum in France and in detailed studies made subsequently, we can see that more than three quarters of the negative vote in the referendum had a fundamentally left-wing connotation, against the Governing party to which Villepin belongs and, more particularly, against its economic and social policies; reasons relative to enlargement were fairly secondary (in spontaneous replies, 32% of ‘no’ voters mentioned unemployment, 26% the economic crisis, 19% neoliberal policies, 16% the absence of a social dimension in the European Constitution, 6% Turkish membership and 5% loss of sovereignty).[4]

Accordingly, when attributing responsibilities for the ‘no’ vote in France, there is a certain amount of ‘scapegoating’, distracting attention and blaming one’s own failings on others.Because of this, doubts on the proposed resurrection of the concept of the ‘absorbtion capacity’ multiplied.For example, how can the ‘absorbtion capacity’ proposed by France be compatible with holding nationwide referendums to validate each new enlargement, as imposed by Chirac by means of a constitutional reform?Because, in the event that a referendum is held on each future enlargement, will this become the framework for national decision-making?Or should all Europeans be given the opportunity to express their opinions?The second option would seem wiser if it is wished to avoid a repetition of what occurred with the European Constitution, where the ‘no’ of some (France) carried more weight than the ‘yes’ of others (Spain).Would France agree to the adoption of decisions on enlargement by a majority of States representing a majority of citizens?

Despite the inexistence of an empiric base on which to sustain these affirmations on enlargement as the cause of all the Union’s ills, the accent of the Austrian conclave was on the ‘absorbtion capacity’, an ambiguous concept tainted with confusion which is open to a flexible interpretation depending on specific cases and interests.It is therefore important to remember that the criteria for the admission of new members are set forth in the Treaties (Art.49 of the Nice Treaty) and detailed in the conditions agreed at the Copenhagen Council held in July 1993. These conditions are not only political (democracy, human rights, rule of law and respect for minorities) and economic (market economy), but also include a criterion for ‘Europeanism’ (whereby new members share the aims of integration, including political, economic and monetary union) as well as an ‘administrative’ criterion (whereby the capacity of the candidates to correctly introduce and safeguard European regulations is assessed).Finally, the catalogue of necessary conditions was completed with a clause applicable to the EU:‘The Union’s capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration in the general interest of both the Union and the candidate countries’[5] As the Commission recalled in May in its communication on the future of Europe, the concept lies in the acquis communautaire of the Community since 1993, but has always been construed in the sense of ensuring that widening and deepening will be mutually compatible, and not as a means to construe membership criteria subjectively or restrictively depending on specific interests.[6]

Accordingly, there is already a criterion for absorbtion, to which recourse can be made whenever necessary, but to be applied objectively if the need arises.That is exactly what the European Parliament did, quite rightly, when on 19 January it approved (by 385 to 125) a resolution that set forth the fact that the Constitution would be enacted as a condition for the acceptance of new members, thus ratifying a decision that had already been adopted within the framework of talks on accession initiated with Turkey.[7] This nuance is significant because, unlike the European Parliament, what France proposed was to definitively establish (and close) Europe’s borders as a condition for accepting the Constitution, which is quite a different proposition, and one that must be dismissed.For the European Parliament, the European Constitution will allow enlargement of the Union so that, in the same way as heretofore, enlargement and deepening will mutually support each other.In France’s case, it is intended to obtain a ‘no’ to future enlargements as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to relaunch the European project.Accordingly, if the route map proposed by France is adopted, it would be quite possible for the Union to end up with no Constitution, despite having renounced future enlargements.

The Limits of Europe and the Nice Treaty
In her first major political address on European policy, given to the Bundestag on 11 May, Angela Merkel affirmed:‘An entity that does not have borders cannot act coherently and with adequate structures. We must be aware of this and must therefore set out these borders’.She thus followed the same line as France, where Villepin affirmed (again in Salzburg, in January of this year) that ‘no political entity can be built on a movement of rapid and continuous expansion whose limits are uncertain. No political project can live without a border’..They are both mistaken, because it is perfectly possible (and desirable) for the EU not to define its borders nor to establish limits, leaving each generation to explore and manage those limits.See, for instance, the case of the United States, where the solidity of simple and well-designed institutional regulations have enabled a Union to function equally well throughout the past 200 years whether it has included 13 or 50 states.What Merkel and Villepin actually emphasise is the fragility of the European institutional system, both in its Nice and constitutional formats.Because, what type of institutions do we have in the EU with 470 million inhabitants and 27 members which will possibly collapse when joined by 600,000 Montenegrins, 4.5 million Croats or even 70 million Turks?Is it not paradoxical that the EU should find itself so threatened by membership of the small Balkan states as well as by a large State such as Turkey?

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, declared this weekend that the Union should first of all define its institutional system before allowing the entry of new members.The problem is not the statement, which is correct, but the very fact that ten years after the Intergovernmental conference held in 1996, addressed precisely at preparing the Union for enlargement, this comment should still be made.Since the Reflection Group, led by the Spaniard Westendorp in 1995, until the IGC of 1996, the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997, the Dehaene, Simon and Weizsäcker Report on the institutional consequences of enlargement of 18 October 1999, the Nice Treaty of 2000 and the Convention and Constitution of 2002-04, all reflections and negotiations on how to negotiate fairer and more equitable rules of the game for all member States and future members have failed miserably given the short-sightedness of the European political class.

Figure 1. The Nice Treaty and Future Enlargements



Votes (1)








































(1) Estimates according to forecasts shown in the Nice Treaty for States with similar populations.

As shown in Figure 1, had the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia remained intact and applied for membership of the European Union, its 23 million inhabitants would have secured it about 15 votes on the Council.However, as they join the Union as separate republics, they will be entitled to 40 votes, which represents a correction factor of more than 2.5. Similarly, the two States created by the split of the Czechoslovakian Federation, which would jointly have enjoyed 12 votes, will now have 19 votes.In a reductio ad absurdum, Spain’s case is highly revealing because, in terms of population, the 17 Autonomous Communities, taken independently, would be entitled to 91 votes versus the 27 set forth for Spain in the Nice Treaty (91 votes, ironically, is the threshold laid down in the Nice Treaty for a blocking minority).

As shown by the Montenegrin referendum, however much States such as Spain and Poland temporarily benefit from a higher number of votes than those to which they would be entitled in a proportional system based on population, the system for the assignation of votes laid down in Nice is unsustainable and does not permit continued enlargement of the Union.This is another reason to achieve prompt ratification and enactment of the European Constitution.After all, institutional adaptation of the Union to an enlarged Europe was a fundamental reason behind the constitutional project.Another thing is that it is wished to limit the European project to 27 or 28 members (once Croatia has been accepted), but it is difficult to understand how and in what way the remaining countries in the region can be permanently excluded from the EU, who are signatories to the Stability Pact for the Southeast of Europe.This does not mean that the Constitution is perfect in this regard, because the system of double majority was not concluded satisfactorily while, at the same time, it also failed to offer an exact definition of the future institutional configuration of the European Commission, or of the European Parliament, but it does represent a substantial step forward in how European institutions think.

Conclusions: Scientific studies tell us that homeopathy does not cure, but helps people to feel better.In the same way, the physician Niels Bohr kept a horseshoe hung over the door of his house, ironically alleging that horseshoes brought good luck even to those who had no faith in them.To halt future enlargements and lay down the borders of the Union could have a similarly calming effect, but it will not help to solve the Gordian knot surrounding political integration.The European patient can therefore opt for sedentarism as a means to economise his low energy, but this will not prevent sclerosis in the long term.Alternatively, he could get up and do some constitutional exercise, which would lead us to believe that the rules of the game may be efficient and legitimate to sustain any Union enlarged from 27 to 35 members which, in turn, maintains the stimulus for integration.It is therefore imperative that the European Constitution should soon be approved.

José I. Torreblanca
Senior Analyst, Europe, Elcano Royal Institute





[1] See, for example, the revealing reports Enlargement Two Years After: An Economic Evaluation, European Commission, Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affaires, Occasional Paper, nr 24, May 2006, and Enlargement Two Years On: Economic Success or Political Failure?, Centre for European Reform and Confederation of Danish Industries, April 2006.

[2] See European Commission, Report on the Functioning of the Transitional Arrangements Set Out in the 2003 Accession Treaty (Period 1 May 200430 April 2006), DraftCOM (2006), IP/06/130, Brussels, 8/2/2006.

[3] See Sebastian Kurpas & Justus Schönlau, Deadlock Avoided but Sense of Mission Lost: The Enlarged Union and its Uncertain Constitution, CEPS Policy Brief 92, 7/2/2006.

[4] See Flash Eurobarometer 171/2005, La Constitution européenne: sondage post-référendum en France, and Gaëtane Ricard-Nihoul, “El no francés del28 de mayo de 2005: comprender, actuar”, Análisis del Real Instituto Elcano 150/2005.

[5] European Council meeting in Copenhagen, 21-22, June  SN 180/1/93 REV 1, Point 7.a, p.14.

[6] A Citizens Agenda: Delivering Results for Europe, COM (2006) 211 Final, Brussels, 10/5/2006.

[7] Duff-Voggenhuber, On the Period of Reflection: The Structure, Subjects and Context for an Assessment of the Debate on the European Union , A6-0414/2005, 16/12/2005.