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Debate: European Union Expansion

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Should the EU expand to include all those European states which wish to join?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

There are currently thirteen candidates for EU membership. Of these Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania are unlikely to be ready for entry in the next decade. Those likely to be ready within the next five years are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta. Croatia is now also likely to apply.The straightforward debate on whether the EU should expand at all is rare, although a valid topic for argument. More common are arguments over the speed of this expansion. After the fall of the Berlin wall it was thought expansion would have happened by the year 2000, later 2002-3 was set by the EU as a target date, now EU leaders talk of 2005 for the earliest entries and further slippage should not be ruled out. From the perspective of prospective members, such procrastination by the EU can look suspiciously like a lack of enthusiasm for any expansion at all. The arguments which follow are on the wisdom of expansion, but can easily be adapted for a debate on the timescale; all are from the point of view of current EU members as it is they who will have the final say on whether expansion happens.

Argument #1


Morally right. It is right to extend to Central and Eastern Europe the economic and political benefits enjoyed by existing EU members as they recover from the “dead hand” of a communist rule imposed after deals between the USSR and the USA and Britain at the end of World War II. It would be hypocritical for a European Union not to embrace the geographical scope it claims within its own name.


Expansion carries dangers for the EU. The ex-communist applicants often lack entrenched democracies and are sometimes prone to political corruption which could undermine the existing strengths of the Union. Furthermore, current EU policies (e.g. on global trade, the environment) reflect the interests of its members, effectively a rich states’ club; it is not in the interests of these states, or their citizens, to dilute the present relative homogeneity of interests with several poorer nations with different priorities.

Argument #2


Good for current EU members politically. It will extend to almost all of continental Europe a project which has ensured unprecedented levels of peace and cooperation among former enemies in western Europe for nearly half a century. Entrenching peace, democracy and economic integration throughout the continent is to the benefit of all European nations, as has been demonstrated by the negative examples of recent Balkan conflicts, which have involved other European nations in (expensive) military and humanitarian missions, and have created major refugee problems.


Expansion will place huge strains upon the already stretched EU institutions, e.g. the Commission and Court of Justice, endangering their effective working and the current benefits of membership of the EU. Expansion would be very risky unless it was preceded by major reforms of voting in the Council of Ministers to avoid deadlock in decision-making (or the tyranny of voting majorities by coalitions of small countries with a fraction of the EU’s population), and of the size and national-composition of the EU Commission itself, already unwieldy at 20 members. In addition, the EU stands to gain a long eastern border open to smuggling of both goods and illegal immigrants, and one which will bring the Union into constant friction with a suspicious Russia. The accession of divided Cyprus is also dangerous.

  • Enlargement would damage commerce of WTO Member States.

Argument #3


Good for current EU members economically. As new EU members become more prosperous their citizens will consume more and more of the high-technology, luxury, and creative products and services produced by existing members. Despite protectionist fears to the contrary, NAFTA has proved a success for the USA as more prosperous Mexicans spend more on imported American-made consumer goods, while the availability of cheaper labour south of the border has helped American manufacturers compete globally.


Even if expansion was limited to the six best candidates, the EU would gain 63 million people, adding 17% to its population but only $255 billion, or 3%, to its GDP. This will put great strains on the EU budget, resulting in the removal of much of the regional aid currently available to poorer members - at a time when the advent of the Euro makes such redistribution of wealth ever more necessary to ensure economic stability.

Argument #4


No danger of massive migration from east to west in search of better jobs. Current fears are similar to those voiced before the accession of the relatively poor Portugal, Greece and Spain to the EU, but in none of these cases was there a flood of poor workers to the richer states.


Free movement of workers within the EU threatens to flood richer current members with millions of poor job-seekers from the east, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in the west who rely upon wages these migrants would undercut.

Argument #5


Enlargement will undermine the Common Agricultural Policy, but this should be welcomed. The CAP’s subsidies are costly, inefficient and bad for EU consumers. Reform has been sought unsuccessfully for many years, so if EU expansion finally prompts change it will be a benefit. The prospect of cheaper food and manufactured goods from Central and Eastern Europe is clearly of benefit to EU consumers.


Expansion could devastate farming in western Europe where land and labour costs and environmental standards are much higher than in the east. The prospect of new entrants receiving vast subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (current cost $48 billion per annum) would make this danger worse, while the collapse or reduction of the CAP under the strain of expansion would be catastrophic. Not only would a collapse of the farming industries of current members be an economic and strategic disaster, it would have grave environmental consequences.

Argument #6


The prospect of joining the EU has been an impetus for reform in many ex-communist countries, driving changes (e.g. legal reforms, privatisations, in human rights) which are desirable in their own right. The progress made in a few years by the likely early entrants to the EU has been impressive and deserves reward. Conversely, if the prospect of EU membership was now denied to these states, the often unpopular reform process might stall and public opinion could turn towards dangerous nationalisms.


Public opinion towards the EU among current members ranges from lukewarm to mildly hostile. There is a risk that expansion could turn this lack of enthusiasm into active hostility, as citizens see their tax-euros going east and poor job-seekers flooding west, while aid to their own depressed regions is cut, destabilising the EU and endangering the benefits it has brought over several decades.

Argument #7


New entrants are unlikely to wreak havoc on the EU’s workings just because they have not enacted all aspects of EU law and standards into their domestic systems – no current member complies with all EU requirements and some fall far short. Economic integration will be relatively easy as prospective members already enjoy free trade with the EU in manufactures already, and no one expects them to receive agricultural subsidies under the CAP as the current members do. Candidates may be backward compared to current members, e.g. industrially or in terms of corruption or environmental protection, but these shortcomings have domestic, rather than EU-wide impact.


Applicant nations need to do much more to prove their commitment to EU membership. It is inconceivable that any candidate state will have enacted the entire acquis communitaire (80 000 pages of EU laws and standards) into their domestic law within the next five years. They should be told to go away and come back when they have done so.

Pro/con resources





  • This House believes in EU expansion
  • This House would look East
  • This House believes Europe stops at the Urals

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