Putting the brakes on EU expansion

The European Union summit set to take place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday will decide much about the future shape of the bloc. The resounding rejection of the proposed European Constitution by the French and the Dutch referendums has cast serious doubts over the plans for future expansion. The current deadlock requires a deft hand to ensure that it will not become a full-blown crisis. At stake at the European Council this week is not the continuation of the constitutional ratification process. The treaty is anyway widely considered to be dead. Wrangling over a 2007-2013 budget deal, bitter as it could turn, will sooner or later result in some form of compromise solution. The most significant fallout from the constitutional debacles in France and the Netherlands was the need to slow down the EU’s expansion program. Reports that European leaders participating at the coming summit intend to make no reference to plans to admit Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey in the next wave of expansion are revealing of the mood among Europe’s political establishment. Ill-conceived political and economic policies and awkward stewardship by the EU’s political class have kindled after-the-event skepticism among Western European publics, who seem increasingly weary of the bloc’s eastward enlargement. People in the older member states fear that taking in more countries will push down wages and living standards in their own countries and compromise their social security rights. Public anxieties are complicating plans for further expansion. Unfortunately for Greece, the next round of enlargement was expected to include the Balkan states and Turkey – a region that is of vital significance to Greece’s national interests as it remains a politically volatile region littered with many hot spots. Without a doubt, the prospect of EU membership could help keep the lid on interethnic tension. It would be disastrous if the EU’s expansion plans were stalled by a failure to reach agreements that would in turn build popular consensus about the smooth continuation of enlargement.

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