Next week, Debating Europe will be attending a Friends of Europe event looking at the importance of EU candidate status for Serbia, and the sort of economic reforms that are still needed. We’ll have an opportunity to put some of your comments and questions to the panelists, so click here to send us your comments and questions and we’ll put them to Ivica Dačić, First Deputy Prime Minister and Serbian Minister of the Interior, Dušan Petrović, Minister of Agriculture and Trade in Serbia, and Silvana Koch-Mehrin MEP.
The topic of EU enlargement is something we’ve covered before, of course. In January, we asked if you thought the Eurozone crisis was making EU membership less attractive. We had some great comments, including a couple sent in from Croatians talking about their country’s recent EU membership referendum. This week, we interviewed Štefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, and took some of those comments to him for a response.
The first comment we put to the commissioner came from Kris (though it was a point made by a number of readers) arguing that the Croatian referendum had such a low turn-out it raised questions around its legitimacy. Kris also complained about what he felt were bullying tactics from the “Yes” campaign. Is there a problem of legitimacy if a referendum has such a low turn-out?
I don’t believe there is a problem with the legitimacy of the referendum. Croatian law does not set a minimum limit for a referendum to be valid, and not participating is also a legitimate view. Everybody with a voting right had a chance to change the direction of the country.
There are two things here that are important: the negotiation process itself is indeed getting more and more difficult, because the Acquis Communautaire [i.e. the body of EU law] is bigger and bigger every day, every week, every month. The second point, and I think this is a fair point, is that the attractiveness of the European Union is, of course, suffering because of our inability to bring an effective solution to the current lack of confidence in the Eurozone. Despite a number of steps being taken, it will take time and, in the meantime, it has an impact.
Next up, Nikolai made the point that it might be unfair to expect prospective member-states to join the EU before they know what they are ultimately signing up to. Shouldn’t EU enlargement be temporarily suspended until after there is a clearer idea what the new institutional / constitutional arrangement might look like?
I have heard that argument before, and I strongly believe that suspending enlargement while the EU is evolving would benefit nobody. If you look at the history of the EU, you would realise that institutional changes have accompanied the EU throughout its history, from 6 [member-states] to 27. The fact the EU is changing constantly is a reflection of its strengths… Would you rather join a club that can’t keep up with the world?
We also had a couple of debates last year (here and here) on the long-term prospects for enlargement and the EU’s Eastern Partnership. We had a comment sent in from Victor arguing that the EU had to “hold out an olive branch” to Ukraine, or it might lose out to Russia’s influence. A similar comment was sent in from Nikolai, arguing that: “the key to the Eastern Partnership is Ukraine… Should [definite steps towards closer EU-Ukraine relations] fail to materialize… the EU will lose its geopolitical battle due to its sensibilities over the Ukrainian opposition being subjected to judicial opaqueness and eventual incarceration.“
How would you respond to such comments?
If you look at the revised neighbourhood policy: without creating an alternative to EU membership, we are developing a political framework which enables countries like Moldova and Ukraine to get as close to the EU as possible… We have made it clear that the definition of “as close as possible” should be interpreted as those countries having a possibility of becoming part of the EU single market, through the adoption of most of our Acquis Communautaire.
If I may, the point about looking at these issues from a geopolitical angle is not really helpful, because our version of regional integration is seen as opening up multilateral links and not closing them down… The process is not about choosing between Moscow versus Brussels.
What do YOU think? Should EU enlargement be suspended until after the crisis? Is there a problem of legitimacy if voter turnout for membership referenda is too low? And is the prospect of EU membership still important for candidate countries? Let us know your comments and questions on this topic and we’ll pose them to the politicians at the Friends of Europe event next week.