When he took over the job in 2014, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to pause EU expansion for the next five years. Negotiations will continue with candidate countries, but it is unlikely we will see any new EU members before 2020.
Nevertheless, the promise of entry to the 28-country club can be a powerful tool in EU diplomacy. Witness, for example, the 2015 promise made to Ankara to restart membership negotiations if Turkey helps to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.
One of our commenters, Giorgio, is worried that a “pause” on EU enlargement risks diminishing Europe’s influence in its neighbourhood. He believes that if the EU does not continue the enlargement process then candidate countries will start to look elsewhere. In particular, he thinks that the former Soviet countries could “fall back into the Russian influence”.
To get a reaction we spoke to Štefan Füle, former EU Commissioner for Enlargement (2010-2014). He disagrees with the way that Giorgio has framed the question, arguing that he doesn’t see enlargement as a “geopolitical game” between Russia and the EU:
But isn’t there a risk that candidate countries might give up waiting? We had a comment sent in from Ai, who wondered what EU membership really offers countries in the Balkans:
Entering now in EU is like going to an expensive restaurant with no money in your pocket. Especially now, in this moment, when at that restaurant the staff are kicking out another costumer because he was unable to pay.
How would Štefan Füle, former EU Commissioner for Enlargement, respond to Ai?
Is EU enlargement the best way to curb Russian influence? If we don’t continue the process of EU expansion, will candidate countries give up waiting? Let us know your thoughts and comment in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!