Wednesday, February 13, 2013
European Union Enlargement
Specialist in European Affairs
The European Union (EU) has long viewed the enlargement process as an extraordinary opportunity to promote political stability and economic prosperity in Europe. Since 2004, EU membership has grown from 15 to 27 countries, bringing in most states of Central and Eastern Europe and fulfilling an historic pledge to further the integration of the continent by peaceful means. Analysts contend that the carefully managed process of enlargement is one of the EU’s most powerful policy tools, and that, over the years, it has helped transform many European states into functioning democracies and more affluent countries.
The EU maintains that the enlargement door remains open to any European country that fulfills the EU’s political and economic criteria for membership. At the same time, EU enlargement is also very much a political process; most all significant steps on the long path to accession require the unanimous agreement of the existing 27 member states. As such, a prospective EU candidate’s relationship or conflicts with individual member states may also influence a country’s EU accession prospects and timeline.
Croatia is currently considered an acceding country, and is expected to become the EU’s 28th member in July 2013, subject to the completion of the ratification process in all existing 27 member states. Five other countries are recognized by the EU as official candidates for membership: Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. All are at different stages of the accession process. For example, while accession negotiations with Iceland are proceeding relatively quickly, Turkey’s accession talks have largely stalled, in part because of Turkish-EU disputes over the divided island of Cyprus. Similarly, Macedonia’s membership bid has been complicated by a long-standing disagreement with Greece over the country’s official name. The remaining Western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo are considered to be potential EU candidates, but most experts assess that it will likely be many years before any of these countries are ready to join the EU.
Despite the EU’s professed commitment to enlargement, some EU policymakers and many EU citizens are cautious about additional EU expansion, especially to Turkey or countries to the east, such as Georgia or Ukraine in the longer term. Worries about continued EU enlargement range from fears of unwanted migrant labor to the implications of an ever-expanding Union on the EU’s institutions, finances, and overall identity. Some commentators also suggest that the EU’s current sovereign debt crisis, which has hit the countries that use the EU’s common currency (the euro) particularly hard, could potentially slow future rounds of EU enlargement as EU leaders focus on remedying Europe’s financial troubles.
Successive U.S. Administrations and many Members of Congress have long backed EU enlargement, believing that it serves U.S. interests by advancing democracy and economic prosperity throughout the European continent. Over the years, the only significant U.S. criticism of the EU’s enlargement process has been that the Union was moving too slowly, especially with respect to Turkey, which Washington believes should be anchored firmly to Europe. Some U.S. officials are concerned that “enlargement fatigue” as well as the EU’s ongoing financial crisis could hinder EU expansion. The status of EU enlargement and its implications for both the EU itself and U.S.-EU relations may be of interest to the 113th Congress. For additional information, see also CRS Report RS21372, The European Union: Questions and Answers, by Kristin Archick; and CRS Report RS22517, European Union Enlargement: A Status Report on Turkey’s Accession Negotiations, by Vincent Morelli. .
Date of Report: February 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RS21344
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Posted by Penny Hill Press, Inc. at Wednesday, February 13, 2013