The European Union and its Integration

By Ida Horner.

The EU has almost reached the limits of its feasible territorial expansion – discussion.


The European Union (EU) has evolved from six member states in 1951 who came together for commercial reasons, to nine members in 1973, twelve members in 1981-1986, fifteen in 1995, twenty five in 2004 and twenty seven member states in 2007. It would appear that we are not yet there, as six more countries; Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro are waiting in the wings.

There has been an increased interest in EU enlargement since the end of the cold war. Enlargement of the EU has become a key political process, especially as part of the EU’s foreign policy towards the European continent (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.500). It however comes with several risks to both the EU, member states and incoming countries, and these are considered within the essay by posing specific questions:
Who can join the EU?
Why does the EU let them in?
Why countries choose to join the EU?

The essay concludes that given the current economic turmoil in the Eurozone, the EU has indeed reached its territorial limit, because the internal deepening of EU institutions is not deep enough to absorb populous or very poor countries that require development aid to restructure their economies.


Enlargement is defined as a gradual and formal horizontal institutionalization of organizational rules and norms (Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.502)

Who can join the European Union?

Those countries wishing to join the European Union (EU) must in the first instance satisfy a prescribed criterion that is set out in Articles 6 and 49 of the Treaty on European Union, and these state, that any

European country can join the EU so long as they adhere to the founding principles of the EU: respect for human rights, democracy, rule of law, respect for minorities constitutional freedoms, general principles of community law.

Whilst the Copenhagen Agreement of 1993 outlines conditions that Central and Eastern European countries had to fulfill prior to being considered for accession to the EU, and these include, stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for the protection of minorities, a functioning market economy, capacity to cope with competition and market forces within the common market, ability to accept EU membership obligations and adhere to the political, economic and monetary union and all  this would be dependent on the EU’s own capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration by both the existing members and candidate countries. (Bulletin of the European Union June 1993 Cited in (Soetendorp 1999, p.125)

But how does this work in practice? Will the EU simply let in every European country that meets the above criteria, and if not, why not? There is no straightforward answer to this question, because although according to the treaties and the guiding principles of enlargement, the answer is, yes. Mattli and Plümper (2002 p.551) remind us that there is no clear prescription of what the EU boundaries should be, which raises questions over whether a country as far south as Turkey falls within the “natural” boundaries of the EU, yet Delhey, 2007 p.257 cautions against geographical expansion because it is a barrier to trust, a key ingredient to cohesion in any community.

Enlargement is dynamic and transformative as it takes the EU into new physical territory, and with that comes new opportunities as well as challenges for the decision making process, EU resources and existing regional policies. As such, existing members have to weigh up reasons why to let new members in, whilst potential candidates have to decide whether joining is in their best interest (Schimmelfinnig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.501).

In deciding to enlarge the EU faces challenges in its decision making process, as it is easier to reach a consensus with fewer views to take into account, but with enlargement, the diversity of views increases, and this had to be taken into account in discussions on admitting ten member states from Central and Eastern European Countries (CEE). Consideration had to be given to the weight attributed to member state votes, and a system of Qualified Majority Voting was introduced to some but not all policy areas. This round of enlargement would also have implications for the Commission, as there would not be enough jobs to go round the increased number of Commissioners. (Soetendorp 1999, p.125 see also Baldwin and Widgren 2003 pp.2, 3)

Enlargement impacts existing members interests and not all members were happy about the prospect of ten CEE countries joining. Southern states and France were worried about the EU budget with respect to the Common Agriculture fund, as CEE countries are mostly agricultural, there were also concerns about structural and cohesion funds for Portugal, Spain and Greece, as well as commercial competition from CEE countries in areas of textile, steel and coal. All this meant that these countries lobbied against EU enlargement eastwards, as they did not see any advantages that served their interests, while Germany, Denmark and Britain all lobbied for enlargement, for either commercial reasons, or less deepening in an enlarged EU in the case of Britain. The result of this was a delayed decision on enlargement as the EU sought to resolve its internal affairs by restructuring its policies in preparation for the new members, as well as placating existing members (Schimmelfinnig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.507, Soetendorp 1999, p.123).
We now turn to the question of why the EU seeks enlargement.

Why does the EU let new countries in?

As part of its foreign policy with respect to Europe, the EU has led the transformation of CEE countries from planned to market economies, (Soetendorp 1999, p.121) but why does the EU engage in an activity that, according to Delhey 2007 p.274, weakens the opportunity for deeper integration?

According to Mattli and Plümper (2002), the EU weighs up the costs of not letting such countries in, versus the benefits. Some of the consequences of not letting such countries in, they tell us, include increased immigration into the EU, which threatens the EU’s stability. By integrating such countries into the EU’s economic system Mattli and Plümper (2002) argue the negative externalities of these countries are diffused through increased living standards. The EU is seen as protecting its interests here, in preventing a spillover of social unrest from its neighborhood (Mattli and Plümper 2002 pp.552-555).

Could the EU simply offer these countries trade agreements or development Aid in order to mitigate some of those issues? Soetendorp (1999 p.274) argues that the EU has an interest in spreading its political institutions and norms eastward as part of its wider foreign policy on the European continent. The EU’s strongest policy instrument in this regard has been the promise of full membership in the EU for candidates that fulfill the pre-accession requirements. As discussed above, enlargement eastward has not been straightforward, due to the vested interests of existing members who could use their veto to prevent it, and there was a lot of bargaining between existing members on a number of issues prior to an agreement being reached, Soetnedorp 1999 p.127, Mattli and Plümper 2002 p.556)

Cited in Mattli and Plümper (2002) Brancati (2001) advances a theory that enlargement into Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is pushed by Multinational Corporations (MNC) or Transnational companies (TNC) who have business interests in the CEE, but that there are risks associated with doing business in CEE. A similar view is held by Holman 2001 who has argued that, enlargement eastwards has been influenced by the powerful European Round of Table of industrialists (ERT). According to ERT, its members had met obstacles whilst doing business in CEE countries, and that these obstacles could be removed by enlargement eastwards. The MNCs are as such, interested in creating a properly regulated business environment, such as that found inside the EU, in addition to a skilled labour force with the right attitude to work in within which they can operate confidently. In summing up Holman argues that the Pre-Accession strategy is a means of disciplining CEE countries in terms of a free Market economy (Holman 2001, See also Bieler 2002 p.591).

But a question arises as to why Turkey has not been let in, in spite of 60 years of negotiations. The question of Turkey’s suitability as an EU member state raises issues of the geographical limits of the EU as well as the identity of the EU with respect to its enlargement strategy. Indeed Delhey 2007 p.260 has suggested that community cohesion is affected by similarity as well as proximity, and whilst measuring degrees of trust amongst the 27 EU member states, it transpired that Southern and South East enlargement weakened cohesion within the EU (Delhey 2007 p.265). Moreover as a less developed, culturally different to the EU, and with a population of 73.7 million in 2010 Turkey is less trusted (Delhey 2007 p.272 and, p.279 and trading Economics).

The EU is predominantly a Liberal Democratic Christian organization, founded on the values and norms of Christianity, and as such, this raises concerns as to how a predominantly Muslim country like Turkey would fit into such an organization. Therefore, although an applicant country could never be turned down for reasons of religion, Turkey appears to present a challenge for the EU at several levels, such as norms, values, religion and demography and whether or not these can be overcome is an unknown quantity, as according to Schimmelfinnig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.515, an organization expands its institutions to outside states to the extent that these states share its collective identity, values and norms (see also Inglehert 1991 cited in Delhey 2007 p.279). In summary therefore the EU seeks enlargement in order to mitigate elements that threaten its stability as well as accessing new markets.

Why do countries want to join the EU?

Not all CEE countries or indeed the European Free Trade Areas (EFTA) have jumped at the opportunity to join the EU, and this section will consider reasons why countries seek to join the EU.

The break up of the Soviet Union empire left behind economically disabled countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) which have sought to rebuild their economies and guarantee their security by reestablishing links with Western Europe and its institutions such as the EU for economic reasons and NATO for security. The demand for membership was particularly driven by political elites in conjunction with external entities such as international academics and the International Monetary fund motivated by the prospect of joining the EU. In turn the EU demanded that the CEE countries “adapt EU rules and therefore measures of liberalization and deregulation” (Bieler, A, 2002 pp 588-590).

In their assessment of demand for EU membership, Mattli and Plümper (2002) point out that not all CEE countries found the prospect of membership appealing and only the  more democratic countries found it easier to meet the EU’s conditions of accession, whilst the least democratic countries did not. Mattli and Plümper (2002) argue that these countries are attracted to the generosity of the EU’s development programs that include technical assistance (Mattli and Plümper (2002 p.557).  Schimmelfinnig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.520, add that “CEE countries policy is to cast off the eastern identity” and consequently this made the offer of joining the EU attractive.

Access to Foreign Direct Investment as well as extending their market reach was attractive to political elites in CEE countries, but also suited MNCs and the EU (Bieler, 2002, p.590). But what about the more affluent European countries, where does their motivation to join the EU lie? Schimmelfinnig and Sedelmeier (2002 p.517) and Bieler (2002 pp582-588) have argued that the end of the cold war, oil crisis and globalization of the economy, as well as the deepening of EC integration had implications for both Austria and Sweden forcing to consider and consequently apply for EU membership. In Austria’s case, the country’s protectionist production policies threatened to isolate it economically as the EU contemplated changes to internal markets, whilst in Sweden’s case, the relocation of the MNC’s inside the EU deprived Sweden of much needed revenue and jobs, which greatly affected the credibility of the government of the day and forced the political elites to look towards joining the EU (Bieler 2002 pg582-586).

In their article on Theorizing EU enlargement, Schimmelfinnig and Sedelmeier 2002 p.515 have made a useful comparison between Austria and Sweden vs. CEE countries to join the EU. Whilst Sweden and Austria’s reasons can be explained as rationalist, the CEE countries’ motivation conforms to both rationalist and constructivist, but heavily weighted to values and norms.


The EU has grown from six countries in 1951 to twenty seven in 2007, however this has come at a cost, and the EU must therefore consider whether it has reached its feasible territorial expansion. Political Elites in candidate states, Transnational companies, some EU member states and the EU all have reasons for wanting to enlarge, and these boil down to weighing up of costs and benefits. MNCs and political elites might argue for more widening of the EU, however enlargement has implications for the decision making process, regional policies and EU resources and this impacts deepening within the EU and has implications for cohesion within the community. Whilst enlargement eastwards has served to reintegrate the people and economies of the CEE countries into the global economy, the jury is still out in terms of the impact of loss of jobs to MCN as well as the migration into western Europe by CEE citizens now that there are no restrictions on them to do so.

It has been argued that trust levels among member states are very low and that expansion to the South East will have a detrimental effect especially in the case of Turkey, a populous, less developed and culturally different country that scores poorly amongst member states when it comes to issues of trust.

I would argue that given the current economic turmoil and resentment this has aroused amongst EU citizens, that the EU has indeed reached its territorial limit for now. There is certainly a case to pose and reflect on the impact of further widening of the EU specifically the concerns of those member states that object to further enlargement must be addressed if only for the sake of cohesion within the EU. This is because the integration of institutions within the EU is not deep enough, to deal with the Greek situation for instance which is seen as lacking a competitive edge within a capitalist project and yet this is seen as one of the requirements of joining the EU. It is my belief too that the wish for EU member states to retain a degree of autonomy over certain policies, means that the deep integration will never be achieved, and allowing in more member countries would compound the current situation.




  1. Baldwin R and Widgren M: Decision Making and the Constitutional Treaty: Will the IGC discard Giscard? Centre for European Policy Studies Policy Brief No.37 August 2003


  1. Bieler, A, 2002: The struggle over EU enlargement: A historical materialistic analysis of European integration, Journal of European Public Policy, 9:4, pp.575-597.


  1. Copenhagen Criteria, December 1993.


  1. Delhey, J, 2007: Do Enlargements Make the European Union Less Cohesive? An Analysis of Trust between EU Nationalities. JCMS, 45 (2) pp.254-273.


  1. Holman, O. 2001: The enlargement of the European Union towards Central and Eastern Europe: the role of supranational and transnational actors’, pp161-84 -in Bieler, A and Morton, A.D (eds), Social Forces in the Making of the New Europe: The restructuring of European Social Relations in the Global Political Economy, Basinstoke: Palgrave


  1. Mattli, W. and Plümper, T, 2002: The demand-side politics of EU enlargement: democracy and the application for EU membership. Journal of European Public Policy, 9:4, pp 550-574.


  1. Schimmelfennig, F and Sedelmeier, U, 2002: Theorizing EU enlargement: research focus, hypotheses, and the state of research. Journal of European Public Policy 9:4, pp 500-528


  1. Soetendorp B (1999) Foreign Policy in the European Union Pearson Education Ltd  Essex


  1. Trading Economics.


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