No. 45, 1997 - An Eastern Enlargement of the EU: Burden or Blessing?

When the long awaited collapse of the Berlin wall materialised, most people having hoped for this were taken by surprise, which later was taken over by fear, uncertainty and ended up in policy paralysis in practical terms. The European Community, whose charter declared openness to all European parliamentary democracies and market economies, seems to have been particularly frightened by the bold word and visions of the founding fathers of the 1957 Rome Treaty. Thus they extended the fairly limited PHARE Programme from Poland and Hungary to all new democracies, signed a series of association agreements with them, but resisted any formulation that would have created a liaison between these and potential future full membership. Later, especially with the 1993 Copenhagen and the 1995 Madrid Council decisions this deadlock could be overcome. However, with the already palpable stagnation of the IGC in Turin even the official schedules of a possible Eastern enlargement, with the first round of countries acceding around 2002-2003 seem optimistic, if only for bureaucratic and procedural reasons (which include a lengthy and controversial ratification process by the legislation of 15 incumbents). This means, that under the best of circumstances, the front-runner countries will have waited for 12 years for their full membership. This is comparable to the British experience, which was generally considered to be a fairly arduous journey, especially if one compares it to the Nordic or even the Greek experience. Against this background it sounds fairly hypocritic when one hears the repeated warnings of the dangers of a premature, overhasty membership of Central European countries in the EU. If a country is unable or unwilling to create the feasibility conditions for its joining in a club, whose rules – the acquis- were already well known and even accepted by it at the time of their application for full membership, it is probably just a waste of time to wait and prepare for another 15 years.

The paper is available here.