The untimely enlargement of 2004

The untimely enlargement of 2004

Greece’s former conservative prime minister Kostas Karamanlis recently criticized the 2004 enlargement of the European Union. He called it “untimely and hurried” – and he was right. After West Germany successfully absorbed its eastern counterpart, Germany sought to expand its zone of economic influence by bringing the Baltic nations – as well as the Czech Republic and Poland – into the bloc. Italy and France then demanded that Malta also join the EU, while the government in Greece made a similar claim for Cyprus. The bloc eventually admitted 10 new members, a process which completely changed Europe’s political and economic landscape.

The EU widened and deepened in parallel. The concept of a European constitution was emblematic of the latter process. In the early 2000s it was already clear that if the EU wanted to be something more than a big common market, then it would have to seek greater political integration complete with a common foreign and defense policy.

Voter behavior in referendums is rarely guided by the question at hand, but rather by who poses the question

Some national parliaments ratified the European Constitution (the treaty was drafted and edited by the former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing) whereas France and the Netherlands rejected it in referendums in May and June 2005. The 55 percent rejection in France was largely attributed to the poor popularity of the Jean-Pierre Raffarin government. Similar motivations appear to have guided Dutch voters who voted 61.5 percent against the treaty. Both ballots confirmed the rule that voter behavior in referendums is rarely guided by the question at hand, but rather by who poses the question. Given the political mood back in the day, I assume that if the late Constantine Karamanlis had put Greece’s membership of the EEC (the precursor to today’s EU) to a referendum back in the late 1970s, he may not have won the majority of vote.

So it was primarily the European citizens who opposed the idea of closer European integration. As a consequence, the widening was not matched with the necessary deepening. This has left us with the Europe we see today: a slow-moving organization that is heavily focused on compromise and bureaucratic detail. But it is still our home.

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