Cover Image
close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderEurope
View the documentThe enIargement of the European Community

The enIargement of the European Community

by David SPENCE

Enlargement of the European Community is firmly on the agenda. Several countries have made formal applications and negotiations officially began with Sweden, Austria and Finland at a meeting of foreign ministers on I February 1993. Many other European states have also announced their intention to apply for Community membership. So the questions 'Why enlargement? And why now?' are justified. The answers are complex and they point to a major shift in world affairs.

Europe is at a turning point brought about in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the fate of the former Soviet bloc was sealed. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought the end of the bipolar system and of division in Europe. It has meant a new era in international relations. As a result, two groups of states feel free to apply for Community membership; those formerly under Soviet influence and those with traditions of political neutrality.

German unification was one immediate manifestation of this new era in international relations. Freed from the constraints of Soviet hegemony, the two states came together after decades of artificial separation. The new Germany rapidly became a symbol for the potential unification of the whole of Europe and a catalyst for further Community enlargement. Indeed, through German unification, one enlargement of the Community has already taken place. The former German Democratic Republic (GDR) was integrated into the German Federal Republic in October 1990, thereby becoming an integral part of the European Community. There was not, of course, a formal accession of the GDR, but the Community was enlarged by the nearly 17 million citizens of the five new German Lander.

The other countries of East and Central Europe are now envisaging Community membership. And with neutrality in question, some members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) have reviewed their position on limiting cooperation in Europe to strictly trade matters.

To this widening to the North and East comes scope for a Southern and Eastern enlargement, in the shape of the Mediterranean countries of Turkey, Cyprus and Malta. So, while entry in the short-term is foreseen only for the EFTA states, there are many countries waiting in the wings. Their reasoning is simple. The end of European division has reawakened a sense of cultural solidarity throughout Europe and there is a strong political and economic attraction in being part of the Community.

But there is a political problem about enlargement. The Community has to reach a view on those countries where membership is politically desirable and there is a clear sense of European identity, but where problems exist with regard to implementation of all the achievements of European integration. The risk lies in the potential for a multi-speed Europe. In short, the advantages of enlargement risk being counter-balanced by economic costs and the creation of hurdles to further integration.

Defining potential candidates for membership

The European Community is undeniably known as 'Europe'. But Prague and Vienna are clearly as much part of Europe as Berlin, Paris and London. Interestingly, if you look at the map of Europe in the 16th century, the fault line distinguishing Western Christendom from Orthodox Christianity has great relevance for the borders of today. Add to that the frontier of Islam and the Slav areas and the map gains even more current relevance-especially in Yugoslavia.

Where does Europe end? How many states will the Community of 2006 comprise? The maps of the European Community and the European Economic Area are certainly not the whole story. The treaties are very clear on the legal pre-requisites for membership. Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome and Article O of the Maastricht Treaty specify three conditions. Acceptable candidates must be European, have a clean record on human rights and be democratic states.

Entrance requirements are not only legal. Negotiations will take place on the basis of the Treaty of European Union (Maastricht), including the vital pillar of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Next, accepting the acquis communautaire-the body of primary and secondary legislation making up the Community legal and policy framework -is the basic economic pre-condition for membership. but making the acquis work relies on a market economy and a properly functioning civil service capable of implementing and supervising Community legislation. Community decision-making is a complex process. Running the presidency, for example, makes high demands on the civil service of the country holding it.

Having fulfilled these criteria and successfully negotiated membership, the next hurdle for applicants is ratification. The European Parliament must give its assent to membership, thus giving parliamentarians a right of close scrutiny of representatives of the Council, the Commission and the applicant country. Since enlargement involves amendments to the Treaty, primary legislation will be needed. The parliaments of the Member States must also ratify the new membership, as must the parliaments of the applicants. From the perspective of the Community it is sensible for new applicants to be accepted as a group rather than at different points of time. Otherwise, a series of separate ratifications would be necessary.

Why EFTA first?

The EFTA states have a head start in the enlargement process, since much of the important economic integration has been achieved in the complex negotiations to set up the European Economic Area (EEA). The origins of the Community's opening towards EFTA lie in the mid-1980s when discussions began on how the benefits of the Community's internal market could be shared. In the beginning, the idea was to set up a European Economic Area incorporating EFTA and the EC and creating one market for the whole of Western Europe. The EFTA states were not to be required to accept the supranational aspects of full integration into the Community. For the EFTA countries, participation in the EEA rapidly came to be seen as the antechamber to full membership, that history had previously denied.

Membership of the Community would have been conceivable for Norway and Iceland. As NATO members, they had never resisted international alliances, as had the other EFTA states. But Norway's bid in 1972 to become a member of the Community failed when a referendum pronounced against entry and Iceland has always considered membership to be against its interests. The neutrality of Austria, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland led to their refusal to be part of the European Community. They could not reconcile neutrality with the long term political implications of European integration and the perception of the Community as part of the Western side in the bipolar world. Their concept of neutrality is now being redefined.

And there is another important reason for the EFTA countries to envisage membership. The Community is the largest trading bloc in the world and the EFTA economies are dependent on it as a market and a source of imports. The Community's role in setting production standards means there is an economic and political cost in not participating in the decision-making process by which those standards are set. As the Norwegian Prime Minister put it in a statement to the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, on 16 December 1992,'In order to regain control of many of the forces that shape our daily lives, we must be able to make democratic decisions that truly enable us to meet our challenges. It is no longer possible... to tell Norwegian voters that we can carry out all our tasks by means of decisions in Norway alone. If we cut ourselves off from the fore where important decisions are made, we are in reality restricting our own freedom of action... Unless we ourselves decide otherwise, the EC may in a few years' time comprise all of Europe except for Norway, Iceland, certain countries in the Balkans and Russia.'

Negotiations with the EFTA states

In practice, the process of enlargement involves the European Council requesting an opinion on individual applications from the Commission. Negotiations with the applicant country are then conducted by the presidency in office of the Council, with the Commission providing technical support through preparatory and exploratory talks to identify contentious points.

The EFTA countries can be integrated more easily into the Community than the East and Central Europeans. Much of the acquis communautaire, which new members must accept, will be incorporated into national law by Sweden, Finland, Norway and Austria when the European Economic Area (EEA) comes into force later this year. The EEA was due to begin on I January 1993. It is clearly intended to be a preparatory stage to membership of the Community for some EFTA states. Iceland and Liechtenstein have not expressed their intention to become full members and on 6 December 1992, just as the Commission was preparing its opinion on the Swiss application for membership, Switzerland's population voted against ratification of the European Economic Area. The result has been the postponement of full membership as well. There is currently a pause for reflection.

The EFTA states present major advantages for the Community. They would boost Community GDP considerably, provide an important contribution to Community finances and a logical integration of the West European aid effort in Eastern Europe and in the developing world. Moreover, the EFTA countries easily meet the legal, political and economic criteria for membership.

There are some problematic areas, however. Neutrality was always seen as the main stumbling block. Sweden, Finland, Austria and Switzerland have long traditions of neutrality and many commentators have seen an incompatibility between neutrality and the Treaty of Union's move to a Common Foreign and Security Policy, leading possibly to more structured concertation on defence issues.

However, various declarations by the EFTA governments seem to clear this potential problem away. For example, in his letter of 25 November to John Major as President of the European Council, Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt declared:

'Sweden shares the political objectives of the European Community, as laid down in the Maastricht Treaty (les finalites politiques). This implies, of course, that we are prepared to conduct membership negotiations on the basis of the Treaty on European Union.'

The implication is that the Union's common foreign and security policy is not seen as a hindrance to Swedish membership. The Austrian government's aides memoire before the Lisbon and Edinburgh Councils similarly confirm 'unconditional commitment to the Treaty on European Union'.

Thus, any remaining problem areas concern parts of the acquis, which the applicants may not wish to apply immediately. Derogations are not automatic and the discussions on such points are likely to be complex. The Community's view is that membership must be on the basis of acceptance of the whole acquis of the Union-the Treaties of Paris and Rome' the Single European Act and the Treaty of Union, with all the legal acts of secondary legislation and European Court decisions in existence.

The economic problems posed by enlargement include the budgetary effects of membership and negotiations on derogations where the applicant state is unable to fulfil immediately the criteria of the acquis communautaire. For states in the early stages of a market economy and for poor states, the demands of membership could prove hard to meet. This is part of the reasoning behind taking enlargement as a series of phases, with states entering the Community only once the criteria are met. Hence the start with the EFTA countries, which, through the EEA, are able to meet most of the criteria for membership in the short term.

Deepening before widening

'Deepening' the Community means expanding Community competence to areas hitherto the exclusive domain of the individual Member States and improving the decision-making process by redefining the rights and duties of the European institutions. There have been two previous enlargement waves. The UK, Ireland and Denmark entered in 1973 after the Hague Summit had confirmed the acceptance by Member States of the principle of the Community's own resources. The Community had also just introduced European Political Cooperation based on the Davignon report.

Before Spain and Portugal entered in 1986, Member States agreed on the Single European Act. This introduced far-reaching changes to the Community's decision making process and added a string of new competences to Community business. In addition, political cooperation now became part of the new Treaty. The Single European Act also anchored the aim of the completion of the single market by 1992 and ensured that the Community institutions had the administrative means to match their aim. In addition, it provided the majority decision-making mechanisms needed to break the deadlock on so many of the Commission's existing policy proposals.

Changing geopolitics and the drive for enlargement have, in turn, led to the need to review the Community's internal workings. The Treaty of European Union signed in Maastricht resulted from the resetting of the European agenda brought about by German unification. It has added more far-reaching changes. The most significant is often thought to be economic and monetary union by 1999, but the importance of the intergovernmental arrangements for legal cooperation and common foreign and security policy should not be underestimated.

Many saw a reinforced Community as a way of ensuring shared power over international economic forces, avoidance of German economic predominance after unification and a 'roof' for the integration of the whole continent. Maastricht represents the institutional adaptation this implies. By summer 1993, the European Community should have become the European Union.

The new Union will clearly exercise a considerable power of attraction for non-Member States. But for the Member States of the European Union the issue remains how to bring about the enlargement of the Community all feel is desirable while conserving the advantages of European integration. Preventing the potential costs of widening from outweighing the benefits brought by new members will probably mean more discussions about deepening.

Thus, as with previous enlargements, the Community has embarked on a process of strengthening the integration process before it takes on new members. The Treaty on European Union represents a first deepening of the Community. The next intergovernmental conference in 1996 will continue the process.

There are, however, those who believe that widening should not take place before the 1996 conference has settled more operational guidelines for the European Union. The role of the applicant countries in that conference could be crucial to the shaping of the political identity of the new Europe. Some believe that the wisdom of the mature democracies of the EFTA group will contribute to the achievement of a sound system for an enlarged Europe. Federalists argue that danger lies in diluting the supranational aspects of the Community by taking on demanding new members, who may wish, in the name of national traditions, to preserve their independence.

The changes in Europe and the prospect of enlargement have led to a new assessment of the purpose of integration and posed some of the fundamental questions raised as long ago as the 1940s when federalists debated with nationalists about the kind of Europe that should be created. Federalism, subsidiarily, transparency, democratic legitimacy and the limits of the integration process are all back on the agenda for debate at the same time as the Community prepares for enlargement.

Membership or association?

There is an expansive logic to the European Community; a logic symbolised by the various forms of pre-member ship relations other states in Europe now maintain with the Community. There are three categories-the inside track of the EEA, the Euro-agreements with Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics and, finally, the association agreements with the other countries of Eastern Europe and with the Mediterranean applicant states of Turkey, Malta and Cyprus.

In the short term, the shape of the enlarged Community is easily discernible. If the current negotiations go well, and providing the final agreements are ratified, the EFTA states will enter by 1995. By then, or soon thereafter, the question of Malta and Cyprus will arise. Both have formally applied for membership. There is little dissent about the 'European-ness' of Malta and Cyprus. But there are fundamental questions posed with regard to their size and the implications for the management of Community business.

In the case of Cyprus, there are clear political difficulties arising from the division of the island. The vital question is the respect of the acquis communautaire -hardly feasible in a country where freedom of movement of goods and persons is restricted.

Turkey is also a candidate, but Turkish membership is a more complex issue. The differences Turkey, as an Islamic culture, would bring into the Community are vast. Many would welcome the diversity. But there is no doubt that the process of adaptation would not be simple. Add to this the Turkish level of economic development, difficulties associated with the application of the acquis communautaire and the political differences with Greece, and it becomes clear that early Turkish membership however desirable, might be fraught with difficulties. Successive European Councils have, of course, stressed the desirability of strengthened economic and political relations with Turkey. To quote the Lisbon European Council conclusions again

'With regard to Turkey the European Council underlines that the Turkish role in the present European political situation is of the greatest importance and that there is every reason to intensify cooperation and develop relations in line with the prospect laid down in the Association Agreement of 1964 including a political dialogue at the highest level'.

The opening of the Community to the East was formalised by the 'Europe Agreements' with the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary and Poland. Other East European countries have benefited from association agreements establishing new trade arrangements. As the Lisbon European Council concluded in June 1992, cooperation through these agreements is the first stage in a process intended to lead to Community enlargement 'Cooperation will be focused systematically on assisting their efforts to prepare the accession to the Union which they seek'.

After EFTA, the next enlargement wave is therefore likely to include the states of Central Europe-the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and Hungary -the so-called Visegrad states. And thereafter the European Community will have to consider the Baltic states and many of the component parts of the former Soviet Union. With the defining line of 'Europe' likely to run along the Ural mountain range, the size of a resulting European Community would be vast. The question is whether it would be unwieldy too.

Some implications for the future

The problem about enlargement is the timescale within which it is to occur. The applicant countries (and those who have indicated that they will be applicants in the near future) have no time to lose. Given the criteria for membership I have outlined, various alternatives to full membership have been canvassed.

Alternatives include maintaining the EEA as an ante-chamber to the Community. Prospective Member States could move into the EEA, having progressed through an association agreement. The EEA may well prove a sensible option for those applicants where full acceptance of Community rigours would be counter-productive-both for the Community and for the country concerned. The Europe agreements are already intended to be a stepping stone to full membership. They may prove an acceptable alternative to full membership in the medium term.

But, alternative scenarios such as a multi-speed Europe or a Europe of concentric circles are seen by federalists as potentially dangerous for the integration process. Member States and applicants choosing from a menu the dishes they can most easily digest would detract from the aims of European integration set by the original six. It could prove tempting to take the benefits of integration without participating in the costs. This is why the debate about enlargement goes hand in hand with a debate about the future of the Community itself. The Community now has the rendezvous of 1996 set by Maastricht for a further review of the need for institutional reform in the light of the post-Maastricht experience. The parameters will also be set in 1996 for the future shape of an enlarged Community.

There are clearly many implications of enlargement. A major issue is the guarantee of the efficient management of Community business. A Europe of 17, 21 or more members will mean some hard thinking about the efficiency of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament.

Some will argue that there is no intrinsic need for each Member State to have a Commissioner. After all, the Commission represents the European interest and not that of the Member States. As for the appointment of the Commission President, Maastricht provides for Member States' agreement on the proposal of Commission President and subsequent endorsement by the European Parliament. The Parliament may wish to take matters even further and consider a system of appointment of the whole Commission by itself after consultation with the Council. This would require rethinking the question of national balance, looking at the implications of the current political majority in Parliament, the removal of stalest right to a Commissioner and limits on the numbers of Commissioners. These would be far-reaching measures and are certainly not on the cards at present. Indeed, some argue that the number of Commissioners will have to be reduced if managerial efficiency is to be increased.

As for the Council of Ministers, with 12 members, the Presidency and the Commission, a tour de table with 10 minutes each already takes 2 hours 20 minutes and the question of working languages and interpreting costs also raises many thorny issues. The implications of an enlarged Community need thorough consideration.

This is also true for the operation of the Presidency of the Council. This is currently held by each Member State for six months every six years. Four additional members would lower the frequency to once every eight years. Should Member States share presidencies? What are the implications for the European civil services-the Council Secretariat and the Commission. Would their roles need redefining?

The European Parliament will also be affected. The Edinburgh Council has already decided to change the balance of membership starting with the next European elections in 1994. The enlarged Germany, for example, will receive a further 18 members, thus converting the present 18 East German observer seats into full parliamentary seats. More Member States means more seats. Some have estimated at more than 650 the number of seats required to do justice, proportionally, to an enlarged Community incorporating the EFTA candidates. This poses the question of how to maintain efficiency in such a dramatically enlarged parliament.

The Community has to start soon to consider the implications of a Community of sixteen and potentially of far more. One danger lies in discussion appearing to the outside world as a list of empty long-term promises. Open debate, as welcome as we must all find it, can easily create expectations which political reality may have to dispel. Certainly, the EFTA countries role in the 1996 intergovernmental conference needs careful consideration. The options need to be widely discussed.

We need to distinguish political rhetoric from technical reality. While expressing our readiness to help countries prepare for future membership, we must avoid the danger of dilution of the goals and effectiveness of the Community. This means a hard-nosed calculation of the current benefits of integration and the generation of potential new benefits. The benefits may well generate destructive conflict at the same time.

Above all, decision-makers will need to avoid increased tensions within the Community. There are many possible international disputes present in the countries on the potential applicant list. But the risks are not only in the international field. There are a series of implications for the internal policies of the Community. We shall need to reflect on the policy implications of the next round of enlargement. Finance, social policy, the common agricultural policy and the common foreign and security policy are obvious potential sources of stress. Even the definition of subsidiarily is not without problems.

If accession by stages or affiliate status forms part of the answer, as Commissioner Andriessen has urged, new thinking about alternatives to full membership may be needed. In the long term, Member States and the Community institutions will clearly have to consider how much diversity they can tolerate and which policies they can leave to other international organisations or see remaining at the national or sub-national level in the framework of 'subsidiarily'. The dangers for the Community are many. It would be sad if the process of integration and the construction of a supranational Europe risked dilution because of governmental overload and the impossibility of reconciling the ideal of closer union with the practicality of a wider yet more efficient Europe. D.S.