In 2013, Croatia became the newest Member State of the European Union. Seven or eight countries are now widely seen as likely candidates to follow them in and eventually join the European Union. However, with the EU still struggling with ever-present economic malaise, plenty of critics are lining up to warn that “bigger isn’t always better” when it comes to European integration.
No new countries are likely to join the 28-nation bloc until at least 2015, with some arguing that the EU won’t be ready to take on new members until 2020. There are also several roadblocks in place for some of the candidate countries. Kosovo’s independence, for example, is not recognised by all EU countries, although a surprise Serbia-Kosovo deal, brokered by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in 2013, paves the way for its eventual EU membership. Turkey has been pushing for membership for decades, and it could still be at least 15 years before negotiations can be completed, especially with the EU so divided over whether Turkey should even join at all.
The other Western Balkan countries have all been told they can one day follow Croatia into the EU, as long as they make progress on democratic and economic reforms. However, a dispute with Greece over the name “Macedonia” has frozen that country’s membership prospects seemingly permanently. Iceland was keen to pursue membership after the financial crisis rocked the tiny Atlantic nation in 2008, but a new eurosceptic government recently suspended membership talks altogether. Finally, with Scotland set to vote on independence from the UK later this year, could Edinburgh be the next to apply for EU membership?
To read some in-depth analysis of the progress made by Western Balkan nations towards EU membership, be sure to check out the recent report published by our sister think-tank, Friends of Europe.
All of the party manifestos published so far for the European Parliament elections in May mention enlargement, with most parties supporting adding more members to the EU. The Greens want to “keep the door open to future enlargement of the EU“, the Liberal Democrats say they will focus “on steady EU enlargement” and the Social Democrats want to “maintain support for EU enlargment“. Only the Centre-Right say they want to be “more prudent about EU enlargment by taking the EU capacity to integrate new members into consideration before accepting new applicants“. Don’t forget to vote for the party whose position on enlargement you support in our Debating Europe Vote 2014!
But what do Europe’s citizens think? We’ve been covering a series of town hall meetings between citizens and members of the European Commission recently as part of a continent-wide “Debate on the Future of Europe“. The most recent of these meetings took place in Zagreb, Croatia. Neven Mimica, Croatia’s EU Commissioner, answered questions from an audience of citizens.
During the debate, the audience was asked whether they thought Croatia would be able to help its neighbours in the Western Balkans to join the EU. Surprisingly, Croatian citizens seem quite sceptical about the idea, with only 41% saying “Yes” and almost the same amount (40%) answering negatively.
We’ve put together some facts and figures about the Western Balkans EU membership prospects in the infographic below (and you can click on the image for a larger version).
Which country do YOU think should join the EU next? Is Montenegro ready to join the club? Should Iceland resume membership talks? Or could Scotland be the next EU Member State? Maybe you think the EU is already big enough, and should close the door to new members? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.