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EU enlargement (eu)

Despite its recent troubles, the EU’s economic dynamism and social model should make further enlargement an attractive prospect, argues Maria Eleni Koppa.

For many years the power of the European Union to attract the interest of third countries has been undisputed. This was considered the essence of its “transformative power” and its capacity to promote peace, reconciliation and democracy in Europe for which the EU was awarded the Nobel peace prize last December. However, mainly due to the economic crisis, challenges are now emerging for the union.
These challenges are reflected in the decision of Great Britain to rethink its EU membership, in the general rise of Euroscepticism in member states and the so-called enlargement fatigue, in the low voter turnout during the first ever European parliament elections in Croatia, and in the decision of the newly elected centre-right government of Iceland to freeze accession negotiations with the EU.

We have to admit that in the last four to five years, the EU has shown in full its political ambiguities and structural deficiencies, which prevented it from giving a quick and persuasive response to the economic crisis. There were multiple consequences: the fundamental principle of solidarity between member states was questioned; the “weakest links” started rethinking the convenience of staying in such a union; egoism and protectionism began to emerge; social tensions became common in several member states; and insecurity and the high unemployment rate fuelled xenophobia and increased public support for far-right parties hostile to the EU. Given this situation there is actually a poor appetite for further enlargement and less willingness to invest seriously in a credible neighbourhood policy in the EU and it is just natural to expect that this is much less appealing EU for third countries.

This has an impact on the so-called “soft” power of the EU and it is for this reason that my report entitled “Enlargement: policies, criteria and the EU’s strategic interests”, adopted by parliament in November last year, stressed the need to increase the overall credibility of our enlargement policy, to focus on the EU’s attitudes and to better communicate the benefits of enlargement to the EU citizens.
There is, indeed, the widespread misconception that enlargement favours only the newcomers. This is not obviously the case; enlargement is a win-win process. Besides being the union’s most successful foreign policy instrument for promoting democracy, peace and stability in Europe, the strengthening of relations in view of accession boosts trade and opens new opportunities for growth, investment and creation of new jobs, including in longstanding members of the EU. The report thus underlined the importance of better informing people in the EU about the political, socioeconomic and cultural benefits of enlargement.

The central point of the report is that we, the members of the EU, should make sure that we ourselves serve as a living example of the validity of our common values. It is of utmost importance that the EU member states assume their share of responsibility for the success of the integration process and ensure they fully respect and uphold the accession criteria and fundamental rights. Being a role model is the best way to strengthen the credibility and consistency of the enlargement process and preserve the transformative power of the EU.

In this same context, we should not forget that the EU has been attractive owing to its unique combination of economic dynamism with a social model. Citizens of third countries find the EU inviting as they see the prospect of socioeconomic development in it. It is regrettable that this social dimension has been largely neglected in the enlargement process, as much as it is disappointing that this European social model is actually under attack. My report, in recognition of this reality, called for the defence and promotion of the common minimum social standards in the acquis communautaire, so that the EU can be an example of best practice.

If things are difficult for the enlargement countries, it is more so for the neighbourhood countries, as the latter lack the incentive of accession. I believe, however, that the above mentioned elements are also valid for the European neighbourhood policy. EU citizens should be better informed about the benefits of investing in a more stable and democratic neighbourhood. But this is not only about money. In order to be able to attract the interest and admiration of neighbours once again, the EU should prove itself capable of working satisfactorily, delivering, and ensuring the wellbeing of its citizens.

Άρθρο στο «Theparliament» http://www.theparliament.com, 21/06/2013

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