Enlarging the European Union: The Short-Term Success of Incrementalism and De-Politicisation
ABSTRACT Abstract This paper analyses the most important issues of the EU enlargement process. We first discuss an empirical paradox involved in enlargement: the obvious development of the original European Communities into a Union with important supranational features and ever more policy clout has by no means discouraged aspirant member states. Why is it that more and more states are willing to give up much of their otherwise cherished national sovereignty by joining this Union, knowing that even more sovereignty will be eroded over time? Then we address the major challenges the EU has to face before actually widening any further, in particular concerning financial and institutional issues as well as internal and external boundaries. The concluding section discusses implicit and explicit EU enlargement strategies of past and present times. We argue that there is a danger that the incrementalist and de-politicised character of the recent enlargement (non-)discussions are successful only in the short term while actually being rather dangerous in the longer run.
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Falkner, Gerda; Nentwich, Michael
Enlarging the European Union: The short-term
success of incrementalism and de-politicisation
MPIfG working paper, No. 00/4
Provided in Cooperation with:
Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies
Suggested Citation: Falkner, Gerda; Nentwich, Michael (2000) : Enlarging the European Union:
The short-term success of incrementalism and de-politicisation, MPIfG working paper, No. 00/4
This Version is available at:
MPIfG Working Paper 00/4, July 2000
Enlarging the European Union: The Short-Term Success
of Incrementalism and De-Politicisation
by Gerda Falkner and Michael Nentwich
Gerda Falkner is a professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne.
Michael Nentwich is a researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna.
This paper analyses the most important issues of the EU enlargement process. We first discuss an empirical
paradox involved in enlargement: the obvious development of the original European Communities into a
Union with important supranational features and ever more policy clout has by no means discouraged aspirant
member states. Why is it that more and more states are willing to give up much of their otherwise cherished
national sovereignty by joining this Union, knowing that even more sovereignty will be eroded over time?
Then we address the major challenges the EU has to face before actually widening any further, in particular
concerning financial and institutional issues as well as internal and external boundaries. The concluding
section discusses implicit and explicit EU enlargement strategies of past and present times. We argue that
there is a danger that the incrementalist and de-politicised character of the recent enlargement (non-
)discussions are successful only in the short term while actually being rather dangerous in the longer run.
Dieser Artikel analysiert die wesentlichsten Themen des EU-Erweiterungsprozesses. Zunächst diskutieren wir
das empirische Paradox der Erweiterung, nämlich daß sich zwar einerseits die ursprünglichen Europäischen
Gemeinschaften in eine Union mit wichtigen supranationalen Befugnissen und immer mehr politischer
Durchsetzungskraft entwickelt hat, dies aber die Erweiterungskandidaten keineswegs abgeschreckt hat.
Warum sind immer mehr Staaten bereit, ihre ansonsten gehegte nationale Souveränität durch einen Beitritt zur
Union aufzugeben, während sie sich sogar dessen bewusst sind, daß auch weiterhin noch mehr Souveränität
abzugeben sein wird? Anschließend widmen wir uns den wichtigsten Herausforderungen, denen sich die EU
vor der anstehenden Erweiterungsrunde stellen muß, nämlich den finanziellen und institutionellen Fragen wie
auch der Festlegung ihrer internen und externen Grenzen. Der abschließende Teil diskutiert die früheren und
aktuellen (sowohl impliziten wie auch expliziten) Erweiterungsstrategien der EU. Wir weisen darauf hin, daß
der inkrementelle und entpolitisierte Charakter der jüngsten Beitrittsdiskussion zwar kurzfristig erfolgreich
scheint, aber langfristig gefährlich sein könnte.
2 Join the Rolling Mystery Train!
3 Open Questions and Major Challenges
A) Financial Issues
B) Institutional Challenges of Enlargement
C) Which Boundaries?
4 Handling the Tide: Past and Present Union Strategy
Table 1: Major problems as underlined by the Commission in the
regular report 1999 on progress towards accession by each of the candidate countries
Table 2: Associations and applications
Table 3: Public opinion and enlargement
Table 4: Key data 1998 on EU15 (potential) candidate countries
For a long time, the participation of ever more states in the process of European integration was
of interest almost exclusively to a few 'widening experts'. Only during the 1990s, the process of
widening and its implications for the European Union (EU) policy-making process became of
central interest for most, if not all, scientific and political observers of the European Union. This
corresponds to the acceleration of the enlargement process, since the 1950s and 1960s saw only
the six original member states participating in the integration enterprise. The first doubling of
participants occurred between 1973 and 1985, and this number did not increase until the
inclusion of some of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) countries (Austria, Finland, and
Sweden) ten years later. Yet, within another ten years, from 1995, the EU could actually double
again to include thirty member states.
Membership negotiations are now under way with twelve applicants: since March 1998 with the
'first wave' countries Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, Cyprus, and since
mid-February 2000 with the 'second group' consisting of Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia,
Slovakia and Malta. With the former group, the 'final' chapters are expected to be opened by
mid-2000 (with some other chapters already being 'provisionally closed'). With the latter one,
negotiations start - as they usually do - with those parts of the acquis which are considered
easiest. At the Helsinki European Council of December 1999, it was decided that members of the
second group may, according to the 'regatta' approach, catch up with some of the first.
This will depend on the annual individual country reports which assess the progress the candidate
countries have made in meeting the so-called Copenhagen criteria (European Council 1993).
According to the latter, membership requires that the country has
achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights,
and respect for and protection of minorities,
a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressures
and market forces within the Union, and
the ability to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of
political, economic and monetary union.
It is important to note that both political and economic criteria are included in this catalogue. The
duality of financial and political interests is actually present on both sides of the EU-border. The
respective weights differ from country to country (both among the members and among the
applicants) and shift over time. Since the dismantling of economic borders is already well
advanced by now (although there are sectors excluded under the Europe Agreements), and
since the economic models so far indicate that eastern enlargement seems to be a 'win-win' game
for both sides (Breuss, 1999: 32), it seems that issues of political stability and democracy gain
The most pressing problems of each of the applicants according to the 1999 evaluation are
assembled in Table 1 of the Annex. Comparing the issues listed there, one can see that some
show up more frequently (e.g. administrative reform, justice and the protection of minorities)
whereas others are rather specific (e.g. the political Copenhagen criteria). The Commission
detects in all countries problems with the functioning of the market economy structure, at least in
certain fields. Shortcomings thus identified are usually included in the annually updated
'Partnerships for Accession', which have as a goal to set out in detail and explain, for each of the
countries concerned, the fields and sectors in which, according to the EU, these countries must
make priority efforts to prepare for membership.
At the time of writing, it is impossible to say if the applicants' target dates for joining the EU
'mystery train' will hold (see Table 2), although some seem rather unrealistic. There is still no EU
decision on when to admit new members. There is, however, the goal set at Helsinki to do what
is necessary at the IGC 2000 so as to be ready to take in new members by the end of 2002
(Europe 13.12.1999). The Commissioner for enlargement, Günter Verheugen, explained that this
does not rule out an earlier decision, but that three conditions will need to be met: the necessary
financial resources must be available (a condition which Verheugen considers satisfied with
Agenda 2000; but see below), the results of the EU institutional reform must be operational (i.e.
ratification completed), and the accession negotiations must be concluded with the applicants in
question. Usually well-informed sources conclude that the ratification process for the first
accession treaties could thus begin in 2003. 'Given the usual length of time needed for Member
State ratification, the first accessions could take place in 2004 at the earliest' (Europe
Confronted with literally hundreds of publications on one or the other aspect of the process of EU
enlargement, and with fast real-world developments while this text goes to press, this chapter can
only address some basic issues and refer to the most central books and a few important articles.
The first section will discuss an empirical paradox involved in EU enlargement: the obvious
development of the original European Communities into a Union with important supranational
features and ever more policy clout has by no means discouraged aspirant member states. Why is
it that more and more states are willing to give up much of their otherwise cherished national
sovereignty by joining this Union, knowing that even more sovereignty will be eroded over time?
The second section addresses the major challenges the EU has to face before actually widening
any further concerning financial and institutional issues as well as internal and external
boundaries. The third section will discuss implicit and explicit EU enlargement strategies of past
and present times. It will argue that there is a danger that the incrementalist and de-politicised
character of the recent enlargement (non-)discussions are successful only in the short term while
actually being rather dangerous in the longer run.
2 Join the Rolling Mystery Train!
Viewed from a distance and over time, the EU can be seen as the centre of a galaxy. For many
years it seemed as if some of the surrounding groups of states moved quite independently and
sometimes in the opposite direction. They belonged to the communist (Central and Eastern
European Countries - CEEC), authoritarian (Spain, Portugal, Greece) or neutral 'third way' world
(Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland). In the event, their trajectories have converged, and
further 're-positionings' are likely. However, significant developments have also occurred within
the Union itself, making it a 'moving target' for the outside world. Thus, over time, not only does
the nature of the aspirant states change, but also the EC/EU itself has evolved into a different
kind of political system to which new member states need to be accommodated.
When the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, and Norway applied for membership in 1961, the
European Economic Community (EEC) was still in the first of three transitory phases during the
introduction of its common market. When the negotiations were completed in 1972, the EEC
had reached its final stage and achieved a customs union. Even if supranational features,
explicitly provided for in the EEC Treaty (notably qualified majority voting), had hardly come
into play in the aftermath of the 1965/66 'crisis of the empty chair' and the so-called Luxembourg
Compromise, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had meanwhile developed its doctrines of
direct effect and supremacy of EC law (ECJ judgements Van Gend 1963; Costa/ENEL 1964).
They significantly contributed to the supranational quality of the EC's legal order - a factor not
clearly envisaged by the founding fathers.
While the main ambitions of the first additional member states, Great Britain, Ireland, and
Denmark, had been economic (Laurent 1994: 126), the subsequent three southern applicants,
Greece (1975), Spain and Portugal (1977), desired membership for more overtly political
reasons. These (then) recently democratised states were included in the Communities, despite
their comparatively less-developed capitalist economies, for the purpose of keeping them
democratic and non-communist (Wallace 1989). Clearly, however, their specific economic
interests subsequently influenced the further development of the Union; this mainly concerned
the financing of new EC policies. Soon after joining the Union in 1981, Greece made the
accession of Spain and Portugal (finally achieved on 1 January 1986) conditional upon the setting
up of 'Integrated Mediterranean Programmes', whose task was to fight regional disparities within
the EC (Nicholson and East 1987: 201). And when the first major reform package of the Rome
Treaties, the Single European Act, was negotiated 1985-6, the less-developed EC economies
achieved a significant transfer of money via the structural funds, in order to cover the expected
costs to them of the Internal Market. Similarly, the Cohesion Fund was introduced by the
Maastricht Treaty, which set up a timetable for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) among
the EC members in 1992.
The negotiations on this new 'constitution' for the EU (1991-2) were, even then, followed with
lively interest by the majority of the EFTA member states, who had to wait for another
repositioning of the 'moving target' EC before membership negotiations were started with them.
On the eve of the various EFTA applications, the EC's decision had been to deepen significantly
before widening subsequently. Because the Internal Market Programme proved to be attractive to
non-members as well, Commission President Delors, in early 1989, offered to the EFTAns a new
kind of structured partnership, based on wider market integration as well as on common decision-
making and administrative institutions. Thus, the establishment of the 'European Economic Area'
(EEA) might dampen the immediate membership ambitions although, in the event, it did not
meet the EFTA members' expectations.
Austria was first among the group to apply officially for membership in 1989 (Schneider 1994,
Falkner 1995). When the end of the Soviet Union had significantly altered the broader
international arena and also partly influenced their national economies, Sweden, Finland,
Switzerland, and Norway applied in 1991-2. Eventually, the EC decided that negotiations with
the EFTA applicants could begin after the signing, but before the actual implementation, of the
Maastricht Treaty. The Union's internal difficulties - particularly economic recession, and the
ratification problems of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) - seem to have made an externally-
oriented initiative politically attractive and opportune. For some of the new members, the Union
had again developed to a significant extent between their application and their final admittance
to the club in January 1995. Again, deepening did not seem to make membership less attractive
to aspirant member states.
One significant development was the increased stress on correct implementation of EC law. In its
Francovich ruling 1991, the ECJ introduced liability of the member states for damage resulting
from incorrect or non-implementation of Directives. Furthermore, the Maastricht Treaty provided
for fines against governments which do not follow an ECJ ruling (now Article 228 TEC). Thus,
the new members of 1995 had to accept not only more, but also more binding rules. The
association that they joined had a much stricter set of club rules! The post-Maastricht Union had
a strongly increased supranational character with features such as a Union citizenship, increased
powers for the European Parliament (EP), and the independent European Central Bank