EUROPE: EU Expansion

February 4, 2005 3:14 pm (EST)

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What will be the impact of European Union expansion?

The addition of 75 million eastern Europeans--38 million of them Poles--15 years after the collapse of communism will fundamentally alter the makeup of the European Union (EU). The influx of new members may affect internal EU rules and procedures, create tension between old and new members, and color the union’s relations with the United States. "The social strains that [expansion] causes will be one of the biggest challenges for Europe," says Charles A. Kupchan, senior fellow and director of Europe studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Which countries will join on May 1?

The Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, and Slovakia. The union, the political and economic grouping of European states that grew out of World War II, already has 15 members: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The new union of 25 countries will have a combined population of 455 million people.

Are reforms are likely to occur as a result of expansion?

Some experts say many of the costly EU subsidy programs--including the Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, a controversial farm subsidy--will have to be reformed because the EU can’t support its new members at the same levels. "They can’t afford massive subsidies" anymore, says James M. Goldgeier, director of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

How will EU expansion affect transatlantic relations?

Some experts say the challenge of integrating its new members will fully occupy the EU for the foreseeable future. "Europe will have to be devoted to getting this right, which means they’ll have less time for the rest of the world," says Goldgeier. Many of the new members are more pro-United States than their counterparts already in the EU, and may try to push the union toward a closer relationship with the United States. Countries like Poland, which has been a close and reliable U.S. ally--sending troops to fight in Iraq, for example--may clash with France and Germany, which have traditionally seen the EU as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the world. "The question is, will Poland be socialized into the union in a way that will lessen its ties to the United States?" Goldgeier says. "Probably in some way, but it’s too early to say."

Are the new EU members likely to challenge Brussels on other issues?

As eastern European economies grow and prosper--Poland is a significant agricultural producer, for example, and Slovakia is becoming a world center of automotive production--their new self-confidence may lead them to assert their interests. Some may object to established EU positions, such as a ban on genetically modified crops or its support for a European defense force. "These countries are newly independent and sovereign," Goldgeier says. "They didn’t get rid of communism just to be told what to do by Brussels. They don’t want to be dominated again."

What challenges does expansion create?

The expanded union will bring in 10 relatively poor states and extend Europe’s borders far to the east. Its new neighbors--Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova--are even poorer states. The risk, experts say, is that a wave of drugs, diseases, and illegal immigrants will cross from these nations and spread throughout the EU. In addition, some longtime EU members fear workers from the new member states will take scarce jobs, even though western Europe’s aging societies need immigrants to sustain their economies.

Will the new members be full partners in the EU right away?

No. Citizens of current member states enjoy freedom to travel, work, and live in any member state without passport checks or border controls. The Schengen Agreement, which guarantees open cross-border travel for citizens, has been in force for EU states since July 1, 1995, but its privileges will be phased in over several years for the new members. Experts say border controls between new and current EU states will be maintained, although they will be relaxed somewhat. In addition, some countries have negotiated barriers against citizens of new member states. In Germany, for example, individuals from the new EU members cannot legally be hired until 2011. "But what many people will do is just go work and have it become legal later," Goldgeier says. Some experts say fears of a mass influx of immigrants are overblown: a recent EU report projected that only about 1.1 million immigrants from the 10 new states will move to the western EU states in the next five years, according to the Associated Press.

How will expansion affect the proposed EU constitution?

EU diplomats are still working on the constitution, which was drawn up last year to streamline the union’s bureaucracy ahead of this year’s expansion. The document has not yet been submitted for approval by the member states. One of the most contentious issues, experts say, is the distribution of voting power among countries. Germany, for example, has twice the population of Spain or Poland, but wields only two more votes in the EU Council of Ministers than either of those countries. Both Spain and Poland have fiercely resisted attempts to reduce their 27 votes each, which they won at a 2000 EU summit in Nice. The draft constitution would undercut the voting power of less-populous countries by mandating a measure can pass only if it wins the support of 50 percent of member countries and the countries that constitute the 50 percent represent at least 60 percent of the EU population.

Some experts say the draft constitution gives too much power to entrenched bureaucracies in Brussels, while others say it does little more than codify current structures. After the constitution is submitted for approval by EU member states, as many as nine member countries are planning to hold referendums on it. Voters in many of those countries, including Ireland, Denmark, Poland, and the United Kingdom, are thought likely to turn down the proposed document, which then would force EU members back to negotiations. Diplomats have said they will try to reach final agreement on the constitution by this summer.

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