Debating Europe has been focusing (perhaps understandably) on the Eurozone crisis in recent days. We’ve also been looking at the issue of climate change this week (see here and here). However, with the single currency seemingly in the grip of perpetual crisis, it’s easy to forget about relations with the rest of the world. The EU’s policy towards its Eastern neighbours, in particular, has been taking something of a back seat.
The Europe I am dreaming of has equal opportunities for prosperity, stability, employment and progress from Iceland to Ukraine, Portugal to Cyprus and Norway to Malta. All states will be equal and will have opportunities to develop and exploit their natural resources for the betterment of their people first, but [also] for the whole continent… Both Eastern and Western states, or Southern and Northern! We have had enough divisions in Europe!
We spoke to Slovenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Samuel Žbogar, who recently argued that Serbia might have full-fledged membership of the EU by 2019 if negotiations began next year. We asked the minister whether the Eurozone crisis was likely to slow down the process of Eastern enlargement for the EU.
I think it shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean that it won’t, but I think it shouldn’t because I don’t think that Europe should waste another few years dealing with itself. For the past several years, whilst we were debating the Lisbon treaty, we spent far too much time focusing just on Europe. In the meantime, the world moved on and we didn’t even notice that the balance was shifting to the East and to the South. And we are only just waking up now and realising that it isn’t only just the US and Europe but there are also these BRIC countries. I’m afraid that if we are going to close again and look inward then the world will be different again.
What about those who would argue that a debt crisis is no time to think about enlargement? That we should get our own house in order before we think of “growing the family”, so to speak?
I believe enlargement is strengthening the European Union; in global affairs, the EU has become a bigger player. Enlargement is also the instrument the EU can use to transform its neighbourhood. We saw for ourselves in Slovenia how the prospect of membership helped us transform. For the government, painful decisions are easier to accept if there is the promise of EU membership at the end. We have to keep this idea of enlargement alive, because it will change the countries in the Eastern partnership. It will change the countries in the South.
Does the Minister share the vision of our reader, Christos Mouzeviris, for a Europe stretching from Iceland to Ukraine? Are there limits to how large the EU can get? At what point does enlargement stop?
I think we have to go one step at a time. For the time being, Europe is the Western Balkans and Europe is Turkey. That is what we’ve promised. An EU with Turkey in it would be a very different European Union, and would be a much bigger player on the global stage. Yes, we will need some time to prepare for that. But just see the progress that Turkey has made on human rights and other issues. And this impetus to transform can only continue if we continue enlargement.
Then you have the next step and other countries that are very eager to join in the longer term. A country like Iceland is already a perfect candidate country. Then there are countries like Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine – but this is far in the future. Then, of course, the Southern Mediterranean countries – but that’s another story. They may never have EU membership, but they might create their own union and the European Union might become a role model for them.
At one point, we should have a big debate in Europe about the future. At some point, we should discuss whether we want a loose collection of states or a United States of Europe sometimes in the future. How do we see the European Union in that world?
What do YOU think are the limits to EU enlargement? Do you agree with Christos Mouzeviris and Minister Žbogar that a future Europe might (one day) stretch to the Black Sea? Or do you think that enlargement has already gone far enough? Does Turkey have a place in the European Union? Let us know in the form below and we’ll show your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.