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Reaching the Limit? (Zhao Chen)

Reaching the Limit? (Zhao Chen)

Author:Zhao Chen From:Site author Update:2017-08-21 13:43:57
As of January 1, 2007, the European Union (EU) family has two new members-Bulgaria and Romania. Their entry marks the completion of the sixth enlargement of the EU, following on the heels of the accession of 10 countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, in 2004.

In March, the regional grouping will celebrate its 50th birthday. During the past half century, it has grown from a customs union with six members into a 27-nation bloc involved in all-around cooperation in economic, military and cultural spheres. It has created a new peaceful, prosperous and attractive Europe from the ruins of a World War II-ravaged continent, achieving a miracle.

However, the EU's enlargement has not come to an end. Croatia is scheduled to join in 2009, while negotiations with Turkey are going on. Meanwhile, Macedonia has been accepted as a qualified candidate, and negotiations are about to start. The EU also agrees in principle that other Balkan countries, including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, may become EU candidates as well.

Now the world wonders: Will the EU continue its enlargement at the same speed? When will it stop? Where will the EU's final borders be? And what will its size be at that time? Will the EU be satisfied after drawing in the Balkan countries or will it encompass the entire European continent?

Turkey, a country that spans Asia and Europe but has a different culture and religious beliefs from that of Europe, has been recognized as a qualified candidate. Moreover, the EU has signed association agreements with countries around the Mediterranean, including Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. And the EU offers various types of assistance under the agreements. Will these countries participate in the EU too?

The EU's borders will be a very sensitive question, which the European Council and European Commission are trying to avoid answering. However, the EU acknowledges that it must strengthen its system and the ties among member countries and their peoples as its enlargement goes on. The EU Constitution is supposed to serve this purpose.

After France and the Netherlands vetoed the treaty through referendums, approval of the Constitution has been in limbo. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso thus said the EU was in an "introspection period" so as to strengthen its base. When the EU Commission approved Bulgaria and Romania's entry in September 2006, Barroso stressed that the main task for the EU was to salvage the institution, not to absorb new members, or the EU could not guarantee high operating efficiency after its enlargement.

"I believe that an institutional settlement should precede any future enlargement," Barroso said. "This is the way to ensure that our enlarged union will function in an efficient and harmonious way." He hinted that there could be no further enlargement until the crisis over the constitution is resolved.

The EU has so far successfully handled the challenges brought about by its fifth enlargement. But its political and financial resources are not inexhaustible. It is not able to offer unlimited political and financial assistance to all countries that wish to join the union. Besides, accepting new members means that the decision-making mechanism will be more complicated, and the burden of maintaining EU members' common development will be heavier.

For instance, the reform of the decision-making process and fiscal policy has led to time-consuming negotiations, which are very likely to provoke disputes inside the EU. Besides, there are fears in old EU members that the financial assistance to economically weak new members will influence local people's welfare. If these people are asked to help countries that are distant culturally and geographically, there is a high possibility that they will say "No."

Culture and religion are important elements of the EU, which is the reason that many people and leaders of EU member states clearly said that they would not accept a country without a Christian tradition as a new member.

Therefore, the 27-member size is close to the limit of the EU's enlargement. In the future, the EU might have more recourses to use its association policy to guide regional dialogue, and to adopt a strategy of signing free trade agreements, so as to maintain political stability in the neighborhood.

The author is with the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 
The Institute of European studies Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,All Rights Reserved

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