Commission strategy document, British attitudes towards enlargement
There was little or no reaction in the national media to the release of the Commission's November strategy document on enlargement. Attitudes towards the enlargement of the European Union in the UK are informed by two major considerations. British public and political sentiment to enlargement, which remains at present broadly favourable, is likely over the coming months and years to be a function of these two underlying considerations.
First, enlargement is seen by some analysts as a means by which the European Union's 'deepening' integration might be arrested: by increasing the diversity and unwieldiness of the Union. Given the balance of political opinion in the UK, this analysis is central to the UK's general enthusiasm for continued enlargement.
In Turkey, the EU strategy document on enlargement was received with disappointment primarily due to the rigid French position on Turkey since Sarkozy assumed power. Turkey’s discontent was a consequence of French politicking which resulted in EU reference to “negotiations” with Turkey rather than to Turkey’s full membership objective and accession negotiations process as was regularly done. Turkish reaction was reflected in an official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in declarations by various civil society actors, among others, the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSİAD). Leaving aside the discontent, the content of the progress report on Turkey was perceived as balanced, one that praised Turkey in its overall assessment despite various criticisms with respect to the speed of reform and implementation processes. As such, the necessity to speed up the reform process is a widely recognised aspect of the Turkey-EU relations and Turkey’s accession process. In this respect, a number of issues were hotly debated in Turkey such as Article 301 of the Penal Code. Article 301 penalizes “insulting Turkishness, the Republic as well as the organs and institutions” and has repeatedly been used to prosecute non-violent opinions expressed by journalists, writers, publishers, academics and human rights activists.
For a long time, all the major political actors in Sweden – for instance, all parties in the parliament – have been in favour of a broad and continued enlargement of the EU. Although the opposition parties are not as vocal as in previous years on this issue, there are no signs of redirection of policy – to take one example, the Green Party continues to argue that rather than the EU determining the outcome, it is to be decided (preferably in a referendum) by each individual country whether they would like to join the EU or not. The government, for its part, has repeatedly stressed the security-political importance of enlargement as well as the natural progression to the Western Balkans and also Turkey. The reason, in the end, for this approach is to be found in the logic of enlargement as a security process (based on interdependence, democratization and economic growth) of historical proportions. In the annul declaration on foreign policy, the government put it the following way: “Sweden will continue to be a clear voice for a Union open to European countries that want to and can meet the requirements made by membership. Ultimately this is about peace and freedom in our part of the world in our time.”
Enlargement to the East entails a number of challenges for Spain. It does not stand to gain from the economic opportunities of enlargement but will suffer from the consequences (reduced structural funds, increased migratory flows, industrial relocation and disinvestment and trade competition in key markets). Nevertheless, for historical and moral reasons Spain has supported the enlargement process from the very beginning and continues to back future developments. The Spanish government backs not only the entry of Turkey and Croatia but also of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
According to Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, Turkey’s membership of the EU is a ‘strategic issue’. Successive Spanish governments (whether Conservative or Socialist) have backed Turkey’s entry to the EU for a number of different reasons which have to do with the EU’s general political, economic and security interests, while not considering questions of cultural or religious identity to be central to the issue.
Concerning Croatia, the government has supported the opening of negotiations and considers that talks are progressing very satisfactorily. It believes Croatia’s future membership to be a decisive factor for the Balkan region.
Slovenian attitude towards the integration of countries of the Western Balkans into the EU is predominantly positive. In its annual declaration on guidelines for the work of the Republic of Slovenia in the institutions of the EU, the Slovenian Parliament declared that Slovenia will strive to maintain enlargement high on the EU’s agenda, since the enlargement perspective is the most important political instrument for achieving stabilisation of the countries of the Western Balkans and their structural, economic and political reforms. The declaration stresses that the countries of the Western Balkans have a clear European perspective and Slovenia will endeavour for their early accession to the EU on the basis of the Thessaloniki agenda and the strict fulfilment of the accession criteria. More specifically, it pledged Slovenia’s support for reform process in Macedonia, in order for this country to receive a date of the beginning of accession negotiations as soon as possible. The declaration also states that specific attention will be paid to a European perspective of Serbia, since Serbia is crucial for stability and progress in the region. Slovenia’s support for Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina is also mentioned.
Slovakia as a member state of the EU has been a general supporter of the policy of further enlargement. As Table 1 illustrates, the official attitude of the political elite corresponds with the public opinion on this issue. However, a more comprehensive analysis of the public opinion shows that the support by the Slovaks is a fuzzy one. When asked, almost 78 percent of Slovaks agree with inviting other countries to join the EU in the future but at the same time they also think that the EU should not enlarge too fast (Eurobarometer surveys). The most cited concerns of Slovak population with regard to further enlargement are connected with possible economic influence of the future enlargement on the member states of the EU as well as with the doubts about the “value orientation” of some candidate countries. Following the development of popular support for further EU enlargement it is possible to observe slight but continual decline of the support among Slovaks. Even if the trends are negative, compared to EU-27 average support of the future enlargement (46%), Slovakia still belongs among the strong supporters.
Table 1: Future Enlargement
Do not know
Ever since its own accession to the EU was achieved, Romania has consistently stated its position in favour of the entrance of the Western Balkan countries in the European Union. Thus, at the “Croatia 2007” summit held in Dubrovnik in July 2007, Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, after identifying as the main challenges to the region “the domestic reform processes” and “the resolution of security issues pending”, opined that both are closely linked to the “belonging to the European and Euro-Atlantic families”. Also, in a substantial foreign policy speech delivered one year ago (24 January 2007), President Traian Băsescu referred to Romania’s “ambition to demonstrate, through the force of its own example, that enlargement and deepening may go hand in hand […] Romania pleads for an open-door policy, as a major factor for stimulating democratic reforms and economic development”.
Portugal has traditionally been favourable to enlargement, both in terms of the elite and of public opinion. Notwithstanding the argument that might be made that this results in a loss of funds and market-share and even of foreign investment to poorer new members with lower labour costs. The question of enlargement still seems to be seen primarily, in normative terms. The ethical imperative prevails, of not denying other democratising countries the kind of opportunities that Portugal enjoyed by integrating the EU. This trend has remained relatively constant in terms of preferences expressed by Portuguese public opinion, notwithstanding the recent times of economic crisis. But it is unclear what would happen if economic difficulties continue and some political protagonists were to forcefully raise the question of the possible costs to Portugal of enlargement. That populist possibility, however, does not seem to be in the horizon at present.
The broad Portuguese consensus in favour of enlargement – including in the more controversial case of Turkey – also means, however, public and published debate of these questions is limited. Namely, there was no significant public reaction to the Commission strategy document on enlargement.
As Poland’s political life was dominated by national elections, these issues did not get any specific reaction in the Polish media. As it concerns the Balkans, the only important event was the meeting of President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, with the Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Željko Komšic, who came on an official visit to Poland on December 17, 2007. According to the press office of the Chancellery of the President, both leaders reviewed the situation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its circumstances, its structure and its neighbourhood, as well as the overall situation in the Balkans with particular regard to the problem of Kosovo. This meeting happened to be an occasion to present the official standpoint on the situation in Balkans. According to the President: “Poland is of the opinion, that Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as other countries of the region should be given a green light as far as their NATO and EU membership is concerned. The summit of the European Council of March 2007 in a way confirmed this line of thinking not only in our country but also in Europe. Obviously, Bosnia and Herzegovina is very much interested in securing for itself the membership in NATO and in the European Union. (…) And Poland supports Bosnia and Herzegovina in this pursuit. This is not a new attitude but it is worth underscoring. (…).
The Netherlands very much welcomed the agreement reached at the European Council of December 2006 regarding the enlargement strategy based on consolidation, conditionality and communication.
Also during the negotiations on the Reform Treaty the Dutch government has insisted that the criteria for future enlargement should be incorporated in a new treaty. Although the implications of the reference to the criteria as included in the final text of the Treaty of Lisbon are debated, the Dutch Parliament has strongly supported this stance on underlining the importance of the Copenhagen criteria.