10th Anniversary of EU enlargement
Ten years ago, on 1 May 2004, the EU enlarged from 15 to 25 Member States (and with two subsequent enlargements to 28). It brought stability and reunited Europe after years of artificial division during the cold war; it made the EU the world's biggest single market and increased trade between Member States, thus contributing to economic growth and strengthening further Europe's weight in global affairs.
Today, the enlargement policy continues to drive transformation and anchor stability in the countries of Southeast Europe aspiring to EU membership. The pull and influence of the EU is helping them implement democratic and economic reforms, improve the rule of law and build bridges with their neighbours, thus overcoming the legacy of the past. What is then, 10 years after the historic reunification of Europe, the impact and significance of the EU's enlargement policy?
Four strategic benefits of enlargement
(1) makes us more prosperous. A bigger Europe is a stronger Europe. In 2012, EU GDP was 23% of world GDP, amounting to €13 trillion. Accession benefited both those countries joining the EU and the established member states. As the EU expands so do opportunities for our companies, financial investors, consumers, tourists, students and property owners.
(2) helps improve the quality of people's lives through integration and cooperation in areas like energy, transport, rule of law, migration, food safety, environmental protection and climate change. Enlargement helps us ensure that our own high standards are applied beyond our borders, which reduces the risks of EU citizens being affected for example by imported pollution.
(3) makes Europe a safer place. Through the accession process, the EU promotes democracy and fundamental freedoms and consolidates the rule of law across the aspirant countries, reducing the impact of cross-border crime. Current enlargement policy is reinforcing peace and stability in South East Europe and promoting recovery and reconciliation after the wars of the 1990s.
(4) gives the EU more influence in today's multi-polar world: we need to continue projecting our values and interests - beyond our borders. An enlarged Union enhances the soft power needed to shape the world around us.
Enlargement extends the internal market. It opens trade and financial flows thus giving opportunities to firms in the EU and in the incoming countries.
Trade between old and new member states grew almost threefold in less than 10 years preceding the 2004 and 2007 enlargements and fivefold among the new members themselves.
More growth and jobs. Central and Eastern Europe grew on average by 4% annually in the period 1994-2008. It is estimated that the accession process itself contributed almost half to this growth e.g. 1.75 percentage points per year over the period 2000-2008. The economic dynamism of these countries generated three million new jobs in just six years from 2002 to 2008.
Growth in the acceding countries contributed to growth in the old member states through increased investment opportunities and demand for their products. It contributed 0.5 percentage point to cumulative growth of EU-15 in 2000-2008.
A larger single market is more attractive to investors: Foreign direct investment from the rest of the world to the EU has doubled as a percentage of GDP since accession (from 15.2% of GDP in 2004 to 30.5% of GDP in 2012) with the enlarged EU attracting 20% of global FDI. The EU15 FDI stock in EU12 reached €564 billion in 2012, 357% up from 2007.
The current enlargement agenda – an evolving process
The current enlargement agenda covers the countries of the Western Balkans (Montenegro, Serbia, theformer Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) and Turkey. Accession negotiations with Iceland are on hold.
Enlargement policy is based on strict but fair conditionality, with each country treated on its own merits. This means each country moves towards the EU at a pace determined by its own performance in meeting the conditions and reaching EU standards. No shortcuts or easy fixes are allowed, as in the long run they would serve neither the countries aspiring to join, nor the EU itself.
Enlargement policy is not static. It evolves and is adjusted based on the lessons learned from successive accessions to ensure the smooth integration of new Member States into the EU.
Reflecting the lessons learnt from the past, the accession process today is even more rigorous and comprehensive, focusing on addressing the "fundamentals first":
The rule of law: countries need to tackle issues such as judicial reform and the fight against organised crime and corruption right from the start of the accession process. They need to demonstrate a track record of concrete, sustainable results.
Economic governance: countries need to intensify reforms to meet the economic criteria and improve competitiveness, contributing to growth and job creation and reducing migratory pressures and brain drain.
Democratic institutions need to be further consolidated, with for example improved parliamentary scrutiny as well as reforms to public administrations. A stronger role for civil society also needs to be assured.
Fundamental rights: countries need to ensure these are fully respected, in particular the freedom of expression and the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma. Vulnerable groups need to be protected from discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation.
Countries must ensure good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation. As an example, the EU's recent negotiating framework for Serbia includes the requirement for work towards normalisation of relations with Kosovo to run in parallel with negotiations, to avoid importing conflicts into the EU.
Reforms are supported through targeted financial assistance (Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance)with €11.7 billion foreseen for the period 2014-2020 As of 2014 this assistance introduces an even closer link with policy priorities and a "more for more" approach which will reward results and see allocations reduced where targets are not met.
By promoting stability and cooperation in a region on the EU's doorstep, the on-going enlargement process lies in the genuine interest of the EU and its citizens. It creates an environment conducive to economic growth and investment. It encourages compliance with high EU standards. It helps tackle issues such as the fight against organised crime and corruption, and to strengthen justice, security and fundamental rights. All this is for the benefit of citizens and businesses on both sides.