EU Enlargement: Receding Into An Uncertain Future

LONDON: Now that NATO expansion is a reality, both its new members and those who were passed over will turn their eyes to the European Union. But one often overlooked upshot of the recent, failed EU summit in Amsterdam casts doubt over the prospects for EU enlargement into Eastern Europe. It has long been obvious that EU enlargement would be a more difficult and protracted process than some Western politicians implied. But the Amsterdam deadlock underlines how difficult it is likely to be, and raises doubts about whether it will happen at all.

Some Western leaders seemed to promise that enlargement could be a fast-track operation, at least for the front-runners. Two years ago, Chancellor Kohl of Germany set the year 2000 as the target date for Poland to join the European Union; and last September President Jacques Chirac of France endorsed this target in a speech to Poland’s parliament.

Such a time-table is not just implausible: it is impossible. Membership negotiations are not due to start till 1998, and it is unlikely that any can take less than two years. Also, they cannot be concluded until the EU agrees some essential internal reforms, including reform of the common agricultural policy and the regional and other structural funds. Finally, these reforms, and the accession treaties for the new members, will have to be ratified by all existing member states and by all new member states.

These reforms will be difficult to negotiate, because they involve re-opening of old bargains and a rebalancing of economic concessions and advantages between member states.