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(p. 514) 27. Enlargement 

(p. 514) 27. Enlargement
(p. 514) 27. Enlargement

Ian Bache

, Simon Bulmer

, Stephen George

, and Owen Parker

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Chapter Overview

Starting with six member states originally, the European Community (EC)/European Union (EU) has grown through successive enlargements—from six to nine, then ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty-five, twenty-seven, and now twenty-eight. This chapter looks at each of the main enlargement rounds in turn, outlining what happened and what the effect was on the EC/EU, and at the outstanding applications that were still under consideration at the time of writing. A procedure emerged over the six rounds of enlargement that is being applied to the present applications, and this is explained. Academic explanations of why the various applications for membership were made, and why they were accepted by the EC/EU, are reviewed. Finally, a closer analysis of the controversial case of Turkey is offered and consideration is given to the concept of ‘enlargement fatigue’.


The EC/EU has preferred to negotiate enlargements with groups of states together. This has produced six distinct rounds of enlargement (see Table 27.1), starting in 1973 when Britain, Denmark, and Ireland became members.

The second enlargement was in 1981, when Greece became a member, and the third was in 1986, when Portugal and Spain joined. For analytical purposes, the second and third enlargements are often treated as a single ‘Southern enlargement’, as they were undertaken for similar reasons and involved similar issues.

The fourth enlargement was that of 1995, which admitted Austria, Finland, and Sweden. Because the applicants (including Norway, which rejected membership in a referendum) were the leading members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) (see Insight 27.1), this is usually referred to as ‘the EFTA enlargement’.

The fifth and sixth enlargements, in 2004 and 2007, are often referred to collectively as ‘the Eastern enlargement’ because most of the new entrants were former communist states in central and eastern Europe. Strictly speaking, this name is inaccurate, because two of the entrants in 2004—Cyprus and Malta—were Mediterranean island states.

The seventh enlargement saw the admittance of Croatia in 2013. It was the first of the Western Balkan states to complete its accession process. (p. 515)

Table 27.1 Enlargements of the EEC/EC/EU









New members

Denmark, Ireland, UK


Portugal, Spain

Austria, Finland, Sweden

Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia

Bulgaria, Romania


Source:, © European Union, 1995–2014.

Insight 27.1 EFTA at the End of the 1980s

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) was set up in 1959 and entered into force in January 1960. It was a response to the setting up of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1958. The original members of EFTA were Austria, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland.

By the late 1980s, EFTA consisted of seven states of varying size:


Population (000s)















The economies of the EFTA states had been linked with those of the EC since the 1970s by a series of bilateral free-trade agreements.

By the end of the 1980s, EFTA was economically closely integrated with the EC.

The EC did 25 per cent of its trade with EFTA, a higher proportion than with the United States, while the EFTA states sent 56 per cent of their exports to the EC, and bought 60 per cent of their imports from the EC.

(p. 516) The First Enlargement

In August 1961, Britain, Denmark, and Ireland applied for membership of the EC. In April 1962, Norway also applied. The key applicant here was Britain. The other applicants were highly dependent on their economic links with Britain, which were fostered through their membership of EFTA. None of these states could afford to risk the loss of trade with their biggest customer that might result from Britain going into the European Economic Community (EEC) while they remained outside.

Negotiations went on throughout 1962, until, in January 1963, President de Gaulle of France unilaterally announced that France was not prepared to accept British membership. As any member state could veto entry, and as the other applications were dependent on British entry, the enlargement round collapsed.

In May 1967, Britain, Denmark, and Ireland applied again, and Norway joined the second application in July. This time, negotiations did not even get under way: France blocked agreement on opening negotiations in December 1967. Following the replacement of de Gaulle by Georges Pompidou as French President in 1969, a summit meeting at The Hague agreed on a package of measures to ‘relaunch Europe’ that included opening negotiations with the applicants, the 1967 applications of which remained on the table (see Chapter 7, The Hague Summit). On 1 January 1973, Britain, Denmark, and Ireland became members of the EC. Norway negotiated terms of entry, but the Norwegian people rejected membership in a subsequent referendum in 1972.

The impact of the first enlargement on the EC was profound. In terms of bargaining games, not only did the total number of member states increase by 50 per cent, but there was also another ‘big state’ among the new members—Britain—which changed the coalition dynamics that had previously been dominated by France and West Germany. In terms of the sense of self-identity of the EC, the admission of two states—Britain and Denmark—that were sceptical of the ‘European ideal’ made it much more difficult to find a common discourse to conceptualize the mission of the organization.

The Southern Enlargements

As explained above, the second and third enlargements of the EC are often treated as a single ‘Southern’ enlargement. Greece became a member state in January 1981, and Spain and Portugal in January 1986. In all cases, political considerations overrode economic in the decision to enlarge.

All three of the states concerned had just emerged from periods of dictatorship, and the desire to consolidate democracy and guard against a resurgence of authoritarianism featured strongly in the reasons for the applications and the reasons for their acceptance. It was assumed that EC membership, conditional on democratic government, would help to achieve that. The impact of this enlargement on the EC/EU was in its way as great as that of the first enlargement. Again, it changed the bargaining dynamics of the organization. The three new members shifted the orientation of the EC to the south, and the membership of Greece and Spain ensured that there would be a stronger Mediterranean dimension to policy. In political co-operation, the influence of Spain and Portugal led to a greater emphasis on relations with Latin America. (p. 517) Perhaps most significantly in the short run, Spain, with the support of the other new entrants, took the lead in demanding larger structural funds (see Chapter 22, Explaining Cohesion Policy) and soon showed itself adept at playing the EC negotiating game to get them.

On the other hand, Greece’s membership had some less positive consequences. Its long-standing disputes with Turkey proved an embarrassment to the EC/EU on more than one occasion, and spilled over into a hard line on Cyprus. Also, its position on the edge of the Balkans meant that Greece had sensitivities in the region that were difficult for other EU members to understand. These became particularly pertinent in the early 1990s following the break-up of Yugoslavia (see Chapter 26, The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)).

The EFTA Enlargement

In the early 1990s, several member states of EFTA enquired about membership. At first, they were offered a form of close association that fell short of full membership. Subsequently, though, they lodged formal applications, and eventually Austria, Finland, and Sweden became members of the EU on 1 January 1995. Norway again rejected membership in a referendum in 1994, after terms of entry had been agreed.

Because the new members were wealthy, were already culturally aligned with the prevailing values of the existing member states, and had been closely associated with the EC prior to their membership, the effects of this enlargement were smaller than those of any other enlargement.

One effect was the emergence of a Nordic bloc within the Council of Ministers. From 1995, Denmark received support from Sweden and Finland for positions that it had long defended on issues such as environmental protection and human rights, and the Nordic states combined to press the membership claims of the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) in the Eastern enlargement round. Austria joined the Nordic states in reinforcing the coalition of member states for which environmental protection was a significant issue. Because the new members were all net contributors to the budget, their presence reinforced the coalition in favour of reform of the budgetary rules.

The ‘Eastern’ Enlargement

With the collapse of communism in 1989, the EC was faced with a large number of potential new members, all of which expressed an aspiration to join. The first response was to conclude ‘Europe Agreements’, Association Agreements that fell short of envisaging full membership. Then in June 1993 the Copenhagen European Council accepted the legitimacy of the aspirations of the newly independent states to become members, and laid down criteria that they would have to fulfil in order for their applications to be considered. Applications came in rapidly from ten central and eastern European countries (CEECs)—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania—plus Cyprus, Malta, and Turkey.

In December 1997, the Luxembourg European Council agreed that negotiations should open with five of these states—the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia—plus Cyprus (Malta had withdrawn its application), but hold back on the five others. In December 1999, the Helsinki European Council agreed to open (p. 518) negotiations with the remaining five CEECs, plus Malta, which had resubmitted its application. On 1 May 2004, eight CEECs —the ten listed above not including Bulgaria and Romania—plus Cyprus and Malta, became members of the EU.

The two outstanding applications from former eastern European communist states were from Bulgaria and Romania. Starting from a lower base of both economic development and legal stability than the other applicants, they took longer to satisfy the basic criteria, but both became members in 2007.

The effects of this enlargement were profound. In order to be ready to take as many as twelve new members, the EU had to deal with some difficult issues requiring reforms of both policies and institutions. Two policy issues were particularly crucial to the prospects for enlargement: agriculture (see Chapter 19, Agenda 2000 and the 2003 Reform) and the structural funds (see Chapter 22, The 2006 Reform). In both cases, the existing member states that were beneficiaries from the funds proved very reluctant to surrender their benefits to facilitate enlargement. The institutional questions were those that were already apparent at the time of the EFTA enlargement: the weighting of votes under qualified majority voting (QMV), and the size of the blocking minority; the abandonment of the national veto in more policy sectors; and the size of the Commission.


With the completion of the Eastern enlargement, the EU faced the question of how far it would continue to expand geographically. There was no shortage of prospective applicants. In particular there was the prospect of applications from the Yugoslav successor states.

Most of these were not expected to be ready to make applications for some time, but in March 2003, Croatia applied for membership, and was granted candidate status in June. In April 2004, the Commission recommended the opening of negotiations with Croatia, which had made remarkable progress in a short time on both the political and economic fronts. Accession negotiations began in December 2005 and Croatia became a member in 2013.

Further Applications

Beyond Croatia a number of other Yugoslav successor states applied for membership. In March 2004, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM) applied, and was granted candidate status in December 2005. Despite Commission recommendations since 2009 that accession negotiations should begin with FYRM, they were blocked by Greece because of a dispute over the applicant country’s name. Montenegro applied for membership in December 2008, was granted candidate status in December 2010, and accession negotiations began in June 2012. Serbia applied for membership in December 2009, and became a candidate in March 2012. Following the EU-brokered agreement that was reached on the status of Kosovo in 2013 (see Chapter 11, Other Developments) accession negotiations began in January 2014. Albania submitted a membership application in April 2009. Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a potential candidate for EU membership. However, any prospect of membership is not imminent given ongoing issues of serious corruption, economic underdevelopment, and (p. 519)

Table 27.2 Prospective members (as of 2014)

Accession Negotiations open

Turkey, Iceland (suspended), Serbia, Montenegro

Candidate status

former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia



political instability (see, for instance, European Commission 2013b), which in early 2014 led to widespread unrest and protests.

Following the financial crisis of 2008–09, in which Icelandic banks suffered badly, the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, narrowly voted (by thirty-three votes to twenty-eight with two abstentions) to apply for EU membership. Iceland was granted candidate status in June 2010 and accession negotiations began immediately. However, following elections in April 2013 which brought to power Eurosceptic parties, negotiations with the EU were suspended.

Turkey had been an applicant for membership for longer than any of the states that gained entry in 2004. An Association Agreement envisaging eventual membership had been signed in 1963. It had been suspended in 1970 and again in 1980, following military takeovers of power, but reinstated following elections and a return to civilian government in 1973 and again in 1983. In 1987, Turkey lodged its first formal application for membership of the EU. Two years later, the EU responded by saying that no further enlargement was envisaged in the foreseeable future. In 1995 a customs union agreement was signed, the first time that such an agreement had not been part of a process of accession. Then in 1997 came the Luxembourg European Council and the decision to move forward with various applications, but excluding Turkey. In 1999 the Helsinki European Council reversed this decision and recognized Turkey as an applicant. Negotiations began in October 2005, at the same time as those for Croatia (for an overview of the status of prospective members see Table 27.2; for further discussion of Turkey, see this chapter, Turkey).

The Enlargement Procedure

Over the course of the five rounds of enlargement, a procedure gradually evolved. Each of the enlargements added something to this emerging approach.

When a potential applicant approaches the EU, the first step is for the European Council to consider whether the application is acceptable in principle. If it is, then the Commission produces an official Opinion on the application. This consists of a report on the economic and political position of the applicant state, and a recommendation on whether to proceed to negotiations immediately, or whether to delay. Usually, the recommendation to delay is to give the applicant time to strengthen its claim to be ready for membership. If so, then a plan of action is produced to facilitate this, which will normally involve an Association Agreement or the strengthening of existing agreements.

If the decision of the European Council is to proceed with the application immediately, it will set a date for the opening of negotiations. The Commission will then (p. 520) convene meetings of various sectoral groups of experts to work out the detail of the EU’s negotiating position. Negotiations then commence with the applicant(s). These are handled on a day-to-day basis by the groups of experts, often by correspondence rather than in formal meetings. They are co-ordinated by the Commission, and overseen by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

When agreement has been reached by the expert working groups in all sectors, and have been pronounced acceptable by the Foreign Ministers, the terms are passed to the European Council for formal approval. Assuming that approval is given, an Accession Treaty is drawn up with each applicant state. The Accession Treaty then has to be ratified by the European Parliament (EP) on the side of the EU, and by either the national parliament of the applicant state, or by referendum depending on the constitutional procedures of each state.

The practice that was established at the time of the first enlargement was that the existing member states would sort out arrangements that suited them before the new members were admitted. The corollary of this was French insistence that accession for the new members could only be on the basis of acceptance of the complete acquis communautaire (Preston 1995: 452). This was to ensure that Britain did not try to slip out of the uncomfortable budgetary position into which the French believed that they had manoeuvred it. The implicit understanding that there was a deal in operation here explains the strength of French (and German) resistance to subsequent British demands for a correction of the budgetary imbalance.

The main contribution that the Southern enlargement made to the principles on which future enlargements would be conducted was the precedent set for the acceptance of applications for geostrategic and political reasons even where the economic conditions were not ideal. This was relevant to the applications from a range of CEECs following the collapse of communism in 1989. Although the economies of these states were not strong, the need to ensure their political stability was; the 1975 Council decision to override the Commission’s Opinion on Greece, and later to wave aside doubts about the economic preparedness of Portugal for membership for similar political reasons, created a precedent to do the same for these new applicants.

The EFTA enlargement did not produce any new principles, but in the negotiation of the Eastern enlargement, formal criteria were laid down for the first time. These criteria arose from concern about the preparedness of the former communist states for membership, and because they were agreed at the June 1993 Copenhagen European Council, they are known as the Copenhagen criteria (1993). They are:

  • a political criterion—that an applicant must have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the protection of minorities;

  • an economic criterion—that an applicant must have a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competitive pressures within the single market of the EU;

  • a criterion relating to the acquis communautaire—that an applicant must be able to take on the obligations of membership, including adherence to the aims of political, economic, and monetary union.

Although these were originally criteria for the acceptance of applications, they also came to structure the negotiations on membership, and were applied in the (p. 521) negotiations with subsequent applicants. Adherence to these criteria on the part of prospective member states amounts to a significant Europeanization of their politics, economy, and institutions (see Chapter 3).

Explaining Enlargement

Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier (2002) produced a typology of the academic literature on enlargement, classifying it according to the research focus along four dimensions:

  • the enlargement policies of the applicants;

  • the enlargement policies of the existing member states;

  • the enlargement policies of the EU;

  • the impact of enlargement.

Structuring existing studies along these dimensions, Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier (2002: 523–4) were able to conclude that:

  • the bulk of the analytical studies were on the last two enlargements;

  • the analyses of the EFTA enlargement focused primarily on their first dimension—questioning why the EFTA states applied for membership;

  • the analyses of the Eastern enlargement focused primarily on their second and third dimensions—questioning why the applications were accepted, and on what conditions the applicants were offered membership.

Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier (2002: 508–15) also divided existing studies of enlargement according to whether they emphasized interests or ideas in their analysis. They referred to these as ‘rationalist’ and ‘constructivist’ institutionalism (see Chapters 2 and 3).

Explanations which emphasize interests—both economic and geopolitical—are in most cases able at least partially to account for the desire of prospective members to join the EU and the desire of the EU and its constituent states and institutions to permit membership. However, they are liable to understate the costs incurred on both sides: for prospective members in terms of the often domestically unpopular adjustment processes required in order to meet membership criteria and for current members in terms of diminished influence within the EU as well as the potential financial costs of accepting new members (relevant in many enlargement rounds). Constructivist explanations which emphasize the importance of ideas can usefully account for a willingness on all sides to overlook such costs. Such ideas can consist of general normative conceptions about ‘Europe’, its identity, and its limits (see Chapter 4), and also more specific technical norms associated with policy and law that are ‘diffused’ during the enlargement process.

Explanations of the First Enlargement

It is generally agreed that to understand why the applicant states of the first enlargement decided to seek entry, it is primarily necessary to consider the reasons for the (p. 522) British application. The other applicants were so tightly bound economically to Britain that they could not afford to stay outside the EC if Britain went in. There were two main factors behind the British application: economic and geostrategic.

Sluggish economic growth in Britain in the late 1950s was increasingly blamed by economists both inside and outside government on the pattern of trade. Britain, at the end of the 1950s, still did a high proportion of its trade with the countries of its former empire, now voluntarily grouped together as the Commonwealth—but the fastest growth in trade was between industrialized countries. This was reflected in the high rates of growth within the newly formed EEC. The success of the EEC surprised British policy makers, and led to efforts in the late 1950s to conclude a free-trade agreement with the six. When this failed, an application for British entry for economic reasons began to be taken seriously. For Moravcsik (1998: 164), such economic reasons were paramount: ‘The British membership bid was … aimed primarily at the advancement of enduring British commercial interests.’

Political considerations started to point in the same direction when de Gaulle began to dominate the EEC, and became especially influential when he made proposals for political co-operation in the Fouchet Plan (see Insight 7.2, The Fouchet Plan). British concern centred on the known hostility of de Gaulle to US hegemony in the capitalist world. Fouchet contained reference to co-operation on defence, but no reference to NATO. Because it was a central doctrine of British defence policy that the United States must be allowed to exercise leadership of the Western defence effort through NATO, Fouchet set alarm bells ringing in London. It did the same in Washington. Camps (1964: 336) recorded that the British government came under increasing pressure from the United States to join the EEC so as to act as a counterweight to French influence, and she believed that this was ‘a very important—perhaps the controlling—element in Macmillan’s decision to apply’. The same perception seems to have been one of the significant factors in de Gaulle’s decision to block enlargement throughout the 1960s.

Initially, the EC member states other than France were interested in British membership for predominantly political reasons. They saw Britain as a future counterweight to French domination of the EC. Concern on this issue was particularly strong where political co-operation was involved. As Ludlow (1997) made clear, the negotiations on British accession in the early 1960s were implicitly linked to the parallel negotiations on the Fouchet Plan. When de Gaulle vetoed British entry, the Fouchet negotiations collapsed (see Chapter 7, The 1963 Crisis). The reason why France finally accepted the British application in 1972 was primarily economic. The post-war economic boom faltered in the late 1960s and British entry offered the prospect of giving a boost to the EC economies. The change of French President cleared the way.

Explanations of the Southern Enlargement

As suggested above, the reasons for the applications of Greece, Portugal, and Spain have not generally been considered problematic. Each emerged from a period of right-wing dictatorship in the course of the 1970s, and the democratic government of each was anxious to embed the democratic constitution by tying in the state to the EC. It seemed equally clear that the existing member states were prepared to accept the applications for essentially the same reason: to stabilize their own southern flank. (p. 523) This assumption that there was no problem to be explained worked against detailed research on issues that were investigated for other enlargements.

Explanations of the EFTA Enlargement

The EFTA enlargement was the first to be systematically analysed in the literature. As Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier (2002: 517) put it: ‘The key question pursued is: why did the EFTA countries, after a long period of deliberate non-membership in the EC, develop an interest in closer ties with, and membership of, the EC at the beginning of the 1990s?’

At the beginning of the 1980s, the European economies generally experienced an economic downturn. In response to the downturn, the EC launched the ‘1992 Project’ to create the single European market. In the course of the 1980s, the member states of EFTA became concerned about the impact on investment in their economies of the EC’s decision to create the single internal market. Export-oriented businesses in the EFTA states experienced difficulties in selling to the EU, with the result that, increasingly, businesses wanted to be inside the single market, and investment began to flow in that direction. Even large national companies of the EFTA states, such as Volvo of Sweden, were locating their investments inside the EC and not in the EFTA countries. This led the EFTA states to enquire about closer links with the EC, despite the unpopularity of the idea of membership inside some of the states concerned.

The other factor that affected the decision was the end of the Cold War. Events in 1989 removed one of the main objections of opponents of membership within the EFTA states. Austria, Finland, and Sweden were all neutral during the Cold War, and there had been doubts about whether membership of an organization that was developing a Common Foreign and Security Policy was compatible with neutrality. The end of the Cold War called into question the meaning of neutrality, and effectively dissipated the doubts on that score.

Sweden is the most studied of the cases from this enlargement. It illustrates well why analysts have considered their main problem to be explaining the reasons for the EFTA states’ applications. Sweden was an exemplar of a social-democratic neo-corporatist type of state, and its social-democratic governments had previously rejected membership of the EC on the grounds that the free market orientation of the organization would jeopardize the Swedish model of capitalism. Yet, in 1991 a social-democratic government applied for membership at just the time that the EC was taking a major step in a neoliberal direction with the single market programme (Bieler 2002: 576): why?

Ingebritsen (1998) offered a rational-choice explanation for the decision, in the mould of liberal intergovernmentalism. She concentrated on the leading industrial sectors, which in Sweden were export-oriented. The largest firms were also transnational, and in the course of the 1980s began to transfer production abroad. Swedish governments were already concerned about the country’s lack of competitiveness, and the internal market programme offered a means of injecting more competitiveness into the economy. So, the combination of the push factor of the loss of investment and the pull factor of achieving domestic economic objectives through taking on external commitments (hand-tying) made the choice for membership of the internal market rational for the Swedish government. (p. 524)

Insight 27.2 The European Economic Area

When the EFTA states first enquired about membership of the EC, the reaction from the Commission was to suggest an alternative. In January 1989, Commission President Delors proposed the idea of the European Economic Space (EES), which was later renamed the European Economic Area (EEA). This would give the EFTA states membership of the single market without them becoming full members of the EC. For the governments of the EFTA states, the EEA had the advantage that it might be easier than full membership of the EC to sell to their electorates. The disadvantage was that they would have no voice in the ongoing negotiation of the regulation of the single market. They would be obliged to accept agreements reached in their absence.

The EEA Agreement was signed between the then seven member states of EFTA and the then twelve member states of the EC in May 1992. Switzerland rejected membership in a referendum held in December 1992. The EEA entered into force for the remaining EFTA states on 1 January 1994, but one year later its membership on the EFTA side was reduced again when the accession to the EU of Austria, Finland, and Sweden took effect on 1 January 1995. This left Iceland, Norway, and (after 1 May 1995) Liechtenstein.

The EFTA members of the EEA enjoy the benefits of membership of the single market, but they have to adopt the law of the EU on social policy, consumer protection, the environment, and company law without having any formal voice in the making of those laws. They also have to contribute to the costs of maintaining the single market, including the social costs, but receive no money themselves from the various EU funds.

At first, the EFTA states were offered membership of a new organization called the European Economic Area (EEA) (see Insight 27.2). The Swedish government tried this approach, but it was abandoned in favour of an application for full membership because it did not satisfy the large Swedish manufacturers and did not stop the outward flow of investment capital. Essentially, the same analysis was applied to Finland, where the economy was also dominated by capital-intensive manufacturing exporters.

Fioretos (1997) offered a similar analysis. Essentially, Fioretos (1997) argued that globalization had increased the power of corporations in the domestic arena and allowed them to force governments onto paths of policy that they—the corporations—preferred. Like Ingebritsen (1998), Fioretos (1997) offered a rationalist analysis that was compatible with liberal intergovernmentalism.

Liberal intergovernmentalism analyses European integration as an example of a two-level game, in which the first stage is the formation of preferences (see Chapter 1, International Relations Theories of European Integration). At this stage: ‘Groups articulate preferences; governments aggregate them’ (Moravcsik 1993: 483).

This is exactly the relationship theorized by Fioretos (1997). In response to the economic downturn of the 1980s, Swedish firms took advantage of growing globalization to become transnational. This strengthened their hand in domestic bargaining with government because they had a much stronger option to exit the game than previously—that is, if they did not get their way, they could close down production in Sweden and switch it elsewhere. The firms were kept in Sweden in the 1980s by a series of devaluations that kept the krona at a competitive exchange rate with the economies of the EC, which were the main markets for Swedish manufactured products. This strategy could (p. 525) not be pursued indefinitely, though, and increasingly investment capital did leave Sweden for EC locations that offered lower costs of production and lower transport costs because of greater proximity to the market. Weakened in the domestic bargaining game by the greater ease with which capital could relocate, the Swedish social democrats had to pursue membership of the single market, which meant membership of the EC once it became clear that the EEA was an unsatisfactory compromise for Swedish firms.

Bieler (2000, 2002) offered a neo-Gramscian analysis (see Chapter 4, Critical Political Economy) that placed more emphasis on the role of ideas. Sweden was compared with Austria. Whereas the transnational sectors were the primary economic actors in Sweden, in Austria the dominant economic sector was not transnational. It consisted of internationally-oriented national firms, which were dependent on exports to the EC but did not have the production facilities outside their own country that the larger Swedish firms had acquired during the 1980s. This sector dominated the Austrian Federation of Industrialists.

In order to convince the Austrian government to apply for membership, the Federation had to overcome political opposition. So it undertook what Bieler (2002: 583) called a ‘hegemonic project’. This involved issuing a series of studies that not only advanced a strong version of the neoliberal economic argument, but also dealt with the constitutional implications of membership and the issue of what it implied for Austria’s post-war neutrality. These arguments then fed into internal debates within the two main political parties—the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party. Although they encountered opposition from representatives of the economic sectors that had been sheltered from foreign competition by the state, and from representatives of the public sector, they eventually won over the leadership of both parties, thus setting the course for the application. By the time of the Austrian referendum in June 1994, a new orthodoxy had emerged around membership, thus ensuring a comfortable ‘yes’ vote by 66.6 per cent to 33.4 per cent.

In Sweden, Bieler (2002: 586–7) argued that the transnational corporations did not need to build a hegemonic project in favour of membership because they had the option of exit. Instead, they brutally spelt out the implications of not joining: notably, in a series of advertisements in national newspapers in the run-up to the 1994 general election (Fioretos 1997: 316). Swedish membership was pushed most strongly by the Ministry of Finance and the Prime Minister’s Office, and Bieler (2002: 585) argued that this showed that ‘neo-liberal restructuring had become … internalized within the Swedish form of state in view of domestic economic recession’. In other words, the Swedish government was looking for a long-term means of solving the country’s chronic economic problems, and had accepted the ideological claims of neoliberalism to provide the only such solution. It was therefore trying to tie its own hands by joining the EC, which would provide an external buttress against resistance to the dismantling of the welfare state and neo-corporatist institutions of Sweden.

The initial response of the EU was to offer the prospective applicants a form of relationship that fell short of full membership. This position was then abandoned, and the applications for full membership accepted. So why the change of attitude?

At the time of the initial approach from the EFTA states, the EC was trying to process the legislation that was needed to make a reality of the internal market. It was also looking to the next stage in the process. To prevent another round of enlargement dominating the attention of the organization, and possibly deflecting the course of the (p. 526) spillover from the single market to the single currency, Delors proposed the creation of a European Economic Space. This later became the EEA (see Insight 27.2).

The EEA negotiations were successfully concluded in 1991, and a treaty was signed in 1992—but it became increasingly apparent that businesses were simply not prepared to accept that members of the EEA would be full members of the single market. Investment flows did not revert to previous patterns. The EEA suffered a further blow to its credibility when the Swiss people rejected membership of it in a referendum in December 1992. The government of Austria had already applied for full membership of the EC in July 1989, and Finland, Norway, and Sweden did likewise between July 1991 and November 1992.

By this time, the prospect had emerged of an eventual Eastern enlargement to embrace states that were economically considerably less developed than the existing member states. The EFTA applicants were wealthy and potential net contributors to a common budget that would come under much greater pressure if the CEECs were eventually accepted. So, the EFTA applications were accepted.

Explanations of the Eastern Enlargement

As with the membership applications of Greece, Portugal, and Spain in the 1970s, the wish of the former communist states to become members of the EU has hardly been considered problematic. The states that had emerged from Soviet domination wanted to cement their status as Europeans, and to foreclose any possibility of being drawn back into the Russian sphere of influence. From this point of view, membership of NATO was the more important objective, but membership of the EU was also a guarantee, albeit weaker. The former communist states also saw EU membership as essential to their future economic success, and it fitted with a widespread desire to reaffirm a European identity.

Bieler (2002: 588–9) applied neo-Gramscian concepts to the analysis of why the applications by the former communist states were made. He suggested that the decision to apply was taken by what he called ‘cadre élites within state institutions’. These elites had taken advantage of the collapse of the previous regimes to take power and to introduce programmes of neoliberal reconstruction, supported by external forces. When the restructuring programmes precipitated big falls in gross domestic product (GDP), the legitimacy of the elites and of their reform programmes were jeopardized. EU membership was pursued as a buttress against resistance and reversion to anti-capitalist politicians and policies. It was sold to the populations of the CEECs as a historical ‘return to Europe’. However, the volatility of society and politics in the CEECs ruled out the construction of a pro-EU historical bloc organized around a hegemonic project such as Bieler had identified in Austria (2002: 582–5). Instead, the process in the CEECs was what Gramsci had described as a ‘passive revolution’, led from above by the state elites. This had implications for the commitment of socio-economic actors to the project.

The immediate reaction of the EC to the collapse of communism was to offer the Europe Agreements, which did not make a commitment to eventual membership. In explanation of this, Friis (1998) pointed out that the collapse of communism came quickly and was not anticipated. First, the European Commission was preoccupied with the prospect of a sudden increase in the territory of the EC, and the adaptation of (p. 527) common policies to the addition of another 17 million people with a GDP per head well below the EC average.

Second, the negotiation of the EFTA enlargement was still at an early stage in 1989. Indeed, the EC was still following a policy of trying to persuade the EFTA applicants to become part of the single market without becoming members of the EC—that is, the EEA negotiations. Indeed, the deal offered in the original Europe Agreements was similar to that on offer to the EFTA states at that stage: membership of the single market without membership of the EC.

Third, the EC in 1989 was about to embark on the process of agreeing to a monetary union, a further issue that occupied the attention of the member states and the Commission.

Between 1990 and 1995, the three pressing issues identified above were all cleared out of the way. Formal reunification of Germany took place on 3 October 1990. The Treaty on European Union (TEU), setting out the timetable and conditions for monetary union, was agreed at the Maastricht European Council in December 1991, and formally signed by Foreign Ministers in February 1992. Terms of entry for Austria, Finland, and Sweden were agreed in the early hours of 1 March 1994. Once these issues were resolved, removing what Friis (1998: 333) described as ‘the negative spillover from internal negotiating tables’, there was the possibility of contemplating further enlargement.

The persistence of the CEECs in pressing for entry to the EC/EU was strengthened by the acceptance of the EC that the EEA scheme was not going to work for the EFTA applicants. It would have been difficult to convince the CEECs that membership of the single market without membership of the EU would be any more successful or acceptable for them once the argument had been conceded for the EFTA applicants. It would have looked simply as though the EC/EU was prepared to accept prosperous member states and not those most in need of support.

Security considerations became more urgent in the context of growing instability in Russia (Friis and Murphy 1999: 220). The USSR broke apart rapidly between August and December 1991. It formally ceased to exist on 31 December 1991. The Russian state that emerged after many of the former Soviet republics had proclaimed independence was an insecure place in which nationalist voices received a hearing from the population, and in turn the governments under President Boris Yeltsin came under pressure to talk tough with ‘the near abroad’. In these circumstances, the concern of the CEECs for security from an aggressive Russia led to increased demands for membership of both the EC and NATO. These two issues became intertwined. The United States was concerned not to expand NATO membership too precipitately for fear of alarming Russia, so it put pressure on the EC to offer membership as a sort of second-order guarantee of independence to the states most affected. There was particular pressure on the EC to offer membership to the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—because they were too close to Russia to make NATO membership feasible, but they were also too close to Russia for comfort given the rising nationalist sentiment there. Although it was never likely that the EC would accede directly to any such demand from the United States, it had to show that it was prepared to move some way to contributing to the stabilization of eastern Europe. Also, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate on the very doorstep of the EC, concerns about security grew in the member states themselves.

(p. 528) The prevarication on whether to proceed with all twelve applications together or whether to prioritize some of the applicants reflected the different stakes that different member states had in the enlargement. Germany was particularly keen to see early enlargement to take in at least its closest neighbours: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. This was both for security and economic reasons. The security reasons are obvious: reunification rendered Germany once more a central European state itself; and instability in neighbouring states was highly undesirable. The economic motivations reflected the traditional economic links between Germany and its central European neighbours. France, on the other hand, had less of a stake in either consideration, as it had no contiguous land frontier with the central European states, and had fewer economic links. For France and the other Mediterranean member states, there was a real risk that Eastern enlargement would reduce their influence in the EU, shifting the centre of gravity away from them towards Germany. The French government was therefore more prepared to take a leisurely approach, whereas the German government wanted as few obstacles as possible placed in the way of early accession for its favoured candidates.

The European Commission’s motivation in proposing to proceed with only some of the applications reflected particularly its concerns about its limited resources. The process of accession is long and complex, and can tie up a lot of the available resources of the Commission. Member states have never been prepared to provide all of the extra resources necessary to allow it to perform efficiently the task set for it, and there was no indication that they would do so on this occasion.

Acceptance of the Commission’s proposal to limit the number of applicants with which accession negotiations would begin reflected a temporary meeting of minds between Germany and France. The link to NATO enlargement, and the pressure that the EU had come under from the United States to proceed rapidly on a broad front, made it very attractive for France to agree to a more limited start, to show that the EU was not going to be pushed around by the United States.

The change of tactic at Helsinki, to open negotiations with the remaining applicants, reflected a number of changed circumstances. First, the CEECs that had not been placed in the first group had become increasingly restive about their treatment. Second, the pressure from the United States had receded as the security threat posed by Russia appeared also to recede. Third, the change of heart in Malta opened the prospect to France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece of having another Mediterranean small state in the first group of members to offset the influx of small and medium-sized CEECs. Of the second six, Malta was the most equipped to catch up with some of the first six applicants and get membership early.

Bieler (2002: 590) also offered an analysis of why the applications were accepted. He identified the key to the acceptance of the applications as the support given after 1997 by the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT). Bieler maintained that the ERT was recruited as an ally by the Commission, but was willingly recruited because many of the transnational corporations that made up the membership of the ERT had invested heavily in the CEECs and therefore had an interest in consolidating the conditions for profitable production there.

From a constructivist perspective, others have emphasized the way in which certain actors invoked a moral or ideational argument in favour of CEEC membership during the course of the negotiations. Such rhetoric usually referred in some way to the (p. 529) ‘European vocation’ of the CEECs and their enforced exclusion from the integration project during the Cold War. This rhetoric was particularly prevalent within the Commission, whose ‘policy entrepreneurship’ under President Prodi and Enlargement Commissioner Verheugen was for many a critical driver of this enlargement.

Explanations of the Western Balkans Enlargement

Croatia became the first Balkan state to join in 2013, by when negotiations with other states in the region were underway. These states had similar motivations to the CEECs in their desire to become members: in short, twin economic and security concerns. The EU is also interested in guaranteeing long-term stability in the Western Balkans. Following the destructive wars in the 1990s, which led to the break-up of Yugoslavia, the EU became an active presence in the region, involved in peace-keeping and policing missions and various forms of reconstruction project (see Chapter 26).

The EU sought to use the prospect of enlargement as leverage to promote peace and reconciliation in the region. Through the so-called Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) it established a set of conditions which largely mirrored those contained in the Copenhagen criteria. In addition, via this process it successfully pressed for co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the body responsible for prosecuting those accused of serious crimes committed during the conflicts within the former Yugoslavia.


Turkey’s application for membership of the EU is linked to the attempts of an elite in Turkey, persistently since the early part of the twentieth century, to establish it as a western country. The explanation for Turkey’s application therefore lies in its past to some degree.

After the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the modern state of Turkey emerged from a prolonged civil war in which the new nationalists defeated the Sultan. The radicals, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, defeated the more conservative of the nationalist forces and established a republic. The reformists then set about a process of westernizing and modernizing Turkey. This involved legislation to abolish Islamic law and Islamic modes of dress, to institute a new Civil Code modelled on the Swiss example, and to introduce the Roman alphabet (Ahmad 2001: 850; McLaren 2000: 118).

When private business interests failed to respond to the reforms by investing in the modernization of the economy, and in the wake of the world economic crisis of 1930, an ideology of ‘Kemalism’ was developed that involved the state carrying out economic modernization from the top. The armed forces became associated with this process, setting themselves up as the guardians of the secular state. This role was consolidated after the Second World War, as a semi-modernized Turkey stuttered and staggered away from statism towards democracy. The struggles between the classes that benefited from modernization and those that suffered produced political crises that led to military interventions in 1960 and 1970 (Ahmad 2001: 850–1).

(p. 530) On the Turkish side, the 1959 application for associate membership of the EC, and the post-dictatorship enquiry about full membership, can be understood as an attempt by certain elites and sections of the population to strengthen the contested identity of Turkey as a western European nation rather than as an eastern, Muslim nation. For the EC, the decision in the 1960s to conclude an Association Agreement with Turkey envisaging eventual membership can be explained largely in geostrategic terms. Turkey had just emerged from a period of military rule, and the political scene was volatile. The predominant strategic concern of the period was the Cold War, and Turkey stood on the cusp of the communist world. It was important for the capitalist states to shore up this flank of NATO, and to do that it was important to strengthen the democratic forces that favoured a western and capitalist orientation for the state.

Further military intervention in 1970 indicated that this tactic had not worked, and led to the suspension of the Association Agreement. The restoration of democracy in 1973 reactivated the Agreement, but tensions between the neo-fascist right and the extreme left precipitated a further military intervention in 1980. Democracy was restored in 1983, but it was not until 1987 that Turkey was sufficiently stable for a formal application to the EU to be a credible move.

Müftüler-Bac and McLaren (2003) analysed the reasons for the decision of the EU to exclude Turkey from the list of prospective members in 1997, and for the change of position in 1999. They considered this to be a puzzle because nothing significant had changed in Turkey in the intervening period. In solving the problem, they adopted an intergovernmental perspective, arguing that the explanation lay in the changing preferences of the governments of existing member states, which in turn reflected their national interests. Turkey not only had no champion among the existing member states, but in Greece it had an adversary. Germany also had grave doubts about the acceptability of Turkish entry. The ability of Greece to exercise a veto over moves towards Turkish membership, and the opposition of Germany to any such moves, explained the omission of Turkey from the list of candidates in 1997. By the end of 1999, though, both of these opponents had changed position.

In late 1999, there was a dramatic improvement in relations between Greece and Turkey. Müftüler-Bac and McLaren (2003) offer four explanations for this:

  • Theo Pangalos, a long-standing adversary of Turkey, was replaced by the far more pragmatic and accommodating George Papandreou as Greece’s Foreign Minister;

  • a terrible earthquake in Turkey in August 1999 produced a wave of sympathy among the Greek public, and emergency assistance from the Greek government;

  • in trying to gain membership of the European single currency, the Greek government was struggling to cut its budget deficit, and a relaxation of tensions with Turkey offered the prospect of significant savings on defence expenditure;

  • Greece was using up a lot of political capital within the EU in causing trouble for the others over Turkey, political capital that it needed to conserve if it was not to lose out in areas such as receipts from the structural funds following the Eastern enlargement.

There was also a change in the German position between 1997 and 1999. For the German government of Helmut Kohl, the main objection to Turkish membership, (p. 531) which was often unspoken, was a concern that it was not culturally compatible with the image that the CDU/CSU parties held of Europe: in other words, Turkey was not Christian. This was also a view held by other Christian Democrat politicians from outside of Germany. The change of position in Germany came about as a result of the replacement of the CDU–CSU government in 1998 with an SPD–Green government under Gerhard Schröder. Müftüler-Bac and McLaren (2003: 23–4) represented the issue for the new government as one of domestic politics: the need to integrate the large Turkish minority more securely into German society. The conversion of Germany meant that Turkey now had the advocate that it had lacked in 1997, a significant factor in the decision to grant it candidate status in 1999.

Moreover, Britain, always sympathetic to Turkey’s claims, became a strong advocate of its case during the early 2000s. In the aftermath of a spate of terrorist bombings in Ankara in November 2003, the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, called for Turkish membership ‘as soon as possible’, and the Europe Minister, Denis MacShane, said, ‘Europe is incomplete without Turkey’ (Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2004). The dominant reason for British support was geostrategic. Turkey occupied a geographical position between the EU and the Middle East. It bordered Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It had a majority of Muslims among its population, at a time when the EU was increasingly being accused of a bias against Muslims. A stable and western-oriented Turkey was therefore an important strategic goal for the west, and the best way of ensuring the stability and western orientation of Turkey was to admit it to the EU.

As Parker (2009b) noted, changes within Turkey facilitated these pro-Turkish perspectives in the early 2000s. In November 2002 the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came into office. A self-proclaimed moderate Islamic party, it was committed to pursuing Turkey’s bid for EU membership. Under the premiership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP vigorously set about trying to satisfy the political prerequisites (‘Copenhagen political criteria’) for the opening of accession negotiations. Within the space of little over a year, the new government had made significant reforms to the political and legal system. In particular it had taken important steps to improve the human rights situation in the country, including the granting of certain cultural rights to its substantial Kurdish population. This progress was acknowledged in the 2002 Copenhagen European Council Conclusions, which stated that:

If the European Council in December 2004, on the basis of a report and a recommendation from the Commission, decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, the European Union will open accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.

This commitment provided a further incentive to the reform process within Turkey. It also delegated an important role to the Commission, which produced largely positive annual progress reports in 2003 and 2004. These certainly paved the way to the positive European Council decision in 2004 and the opening of accession negotiations in 2005. Although member states endorsed the Commission’s recommendation to begin negotiations, there remained significant reluctance in certain national contexts. Some have argued that in this instance, as with the CEECs, the EU’s collective ‘rhetorical entrapment’ made it difficult to shun Turkey at this stage (Bürgin 2010). Such rhetoric consisted of commitments to Turkey’s ‘European vocation’, the political (p. 532) criteria as a basis for assessment, and a clear decision-making timeframe which required a decision in 2004.

However, after 2006, negotiations progressed slowly. Formally this was due to the failure of Turkey to open its land and sea ports to the Republic of Cyprus (the Greek-Cypriot controlled part of the island, which Turkey does not recognize but is an EU member state). However, changes in key member states are also relevant. When the Christian Democrats returned to office in Germany in 2004, the German position became far less positive towards Turkish membership, with Chancellor Merkel arguing in favour of a ‘privileged partnership’ instead of full membership for Turkey; and, before he took office in 2007, French President Sarkozy stated unequivocally that ‘Turkey has no place inside the EU’ (Parker 2009b: 1095).

The situation in Turkey also changed. Popular support for the EU significantly waned after 2005. Given Turkey’s rapid economic growth (and the EU’s own simultaneous economic ‘crisis’), Erdogan’s rhetoric at times suggested that Turkey might no longer perceive EU membership as its primary foreign policy objective (see The Economist 2013a). Moreover, Erdogan’s hard-line response to a wave of protests during the summer of 2013 served to reinforce the already growing doubts among some within both Turkey and the EU regarding the sincerity of his government’s pledges on human rights (The Economist 2013b). That said, the accession process limped on, with both sides realizing the importance of continued engagement, and significant actors on both sides continuing to support the goal of membership.

Perhaps more than in any other case, Turkey’s bid for membership brought into focus a number of fundamental normative and sociological questions about the limits and nature of the EU. Such questions as: Where do the EU’s geographical borders lie? Are identity, culture, and religion relevant factors in the enlargement process and should they be? If they are relevant, what is the ‘European’ identity against which prospective members are to be judged? And, is this identity a fixed one to which others must adjust or does the EU (and should it) adapt itself to its new members? (Parker 2009b).

Enlargement Fatigue?

Following the 2004 enlargement, many scholars invoked the concept of ‘enlargement fatigue’ to encapsulate the notion that after June 2004, the EU’s appetite for further enlargement was diminished. Certainly that seemed to be the case in the immediate aftermath of the CEEC enlargement, although progress was subsequently made in the Western Balkans. However, the economic crisis (see Chapter 11) may have further reduced the attractiveness of enlargement, both for the EU and for prospective members.

Following the CEEC enlargement, the borders of the enlarged EU abutted states that had formerly been part of the Soviet Union itself: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. However, there was little prospect that they would be accepted as applicants. In May 2004, Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen appeared to rule it out when he said: ‘Membership is not on the agenda for these countries. Full stop’ (Financial Times, 13 May 2004). His statement applied also to North African states such as Morocco and Tunisia which had expressed an interest in eventual membership. (p. 533) Unlike Turkey, these latter states were defined as beyond Europe, which allowed membership to be ruled out. Reluctance on the EU side at this time to engage in further large-scale enlargements can be related in particular to difficulties encountered in reforming EU institutions (and associated treaties) in preparation for the CEEC enlargement (see Chapter 10, Enlargement).

Relations between the EU and its neighbouring states are conducted in the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy (see Chapter 25). This policy seeks to promote EU norms and policy preferences in a similar way to enlargement policy. However, the potential rewards for those engaging in partnerships with the EU fall short of a clear membership prospect and this reduces EU leverage in those states.

The economic crisis in the EU which dominated the agenda after 2009 further diminished the EU’s appetite for significant enlargement (see Chapter 11). The cost implications of future enlargement became a particular concern given the economic situation within certain member states. Concerns that further enlargement would undermine the prospects of pushing forward further and deeper integration (in response to the crisis) also re-emerged in some quarters. O’Brennan (2013) has argued that, while normative and ideational factors were key to driving recent enlargements, in the context of negotiations with Western Balkans states, member state self-interest has become more important and intergovernmental decision making more prominent.

The attractiveness of the EU for prospective members may have also been adversely affected. Public opinion in favour of enlargement diminished not only within the EU but also within a number of prospective members (Di Mauro and Fraile 2012). That said, EU membership remains an attractive long-term proposition for certain prospective states and some populations beyond the EU. For instance, in 2013 and 2014 there was widespread public anger and protest in the Ukraine in response to its government’s last minute decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the EU (see also Chapter 26).


It was surely never envisaged by the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the EEC that these organizations of six states would expand over the next half century to a membership of twenty-eight, with more applicants waiting to join. Perhaps more than any other policy, enlargement demonstrates the stark difference between the EU and a nation state. This is a policy—often described as the EU’s most successful policy—which has allowed the EC/EU to expand geographically but without the violence of national empire-building.

The effects of the enlargements have been significant. They have certainly had a major impact both on the EU and on the new members. Within the EU, enlargement has necessitated European institutional reforms and associated treaty change. It has also changed the EU socially and culturally, as has become evident for EU citizens as a consequence of freedom of movement. For new members, processes of Europeanization (see Chapter 3) have significantly altered their economies, politics, and institutions.

The reasons for this expansion have been much debated, both as to why the applications were made and why they were accepted, but they come down to some mix of economic and political considerations. Scholars have considered the motives on both sides in terms of some combination of rational interests and the role of ideas and norms. Rational interests consist of the various perceived economic and geopolitical advantages and disadvantages of enlargement. Ideas and (p. 534) norms refer to the importance of fundamental normative conceptions about the geographical, cultural, and political limits of the EU.

Considered as a whole, and in relation to all enlargement processes, scholarship has attributed importance to a variety of agents, including governments on different sides of the process, supranational actors (particularly the European Commission), and non-governmental entities. The relative importance given to these actors has varied across different enlargement processes, and the emphasis that different scholars have placed on them has also depended on the broader theoretical perspective that each has adopted.

A number of commentators have noted that, in the context of the post-2008 economic crisis (see Chapter 11), the incentives on all sides for further significant enlargement were substantially diminished.

Key Points


  • There have been seven rounds of enlargement.

  • The first enlargement brought into the EC two states, Britain and Denmark, that were sceptical about European integration.

  • The second and third enlargements are often treated together as a ‘Southern enlargement’. It gave the EC a stronger Mediterranean orientation, and raised the profile of Latin America in external relations. Greece’s membership caused some problems for relations with other states in the Balkans.

  • As a result of the fourth enlargement, environmental protection became more important, the coalition in favour of budgetary reform was strengthened, and a Nordic bloc was formed.

  • The fifth and sixth enlargements are often treated together as an ‘Eastern enlargement’. It forced reform of the institutions and of key policies.

  • The seventh enlargement saw Croatia become the first Western Balkan country to join.

  • In 2014, accession negotiations were underway with Turkey, Montenegro, and Serbia. The FYRM had candidate status and Albania had applied.

The Enlargement Procedure

  • A procedure was developed over the seven rounds of application.

  • Once an application has been approved by the European Council, the Commission prepares an Opinion. Negotiations proceed in sectoral groups. Agreed terms have to be ratified by the Council of Foreign Ministers and the European Council.

  • Existing member states try to sort out problems that might be caused by the new members before the enlargement is completed.

  • The Southern enlargement set a precedent for member states to overrule an unfavourable Commission Opinion on political grounds.

  • The Eastern enlargement led to the development of a set of criteria for membership that have come to structure negotiations with applicants.

Explaining Enlargement

  • The first enlargement was driven by both economic and geostrategic considerations.

  • The EFTA enlargement was a response to the success of the single market programme.

  • (p. 535) The Eastern enlargement was a result of a wish to consolidate democracy and capitalism in the former communist states.

  • The enlargement processes with the Western Balkans were rooted in a desire to guarantee stability in this previously troubled region.

  • Turkey’s fluctuating EU membership prospects have been driven by both domestic politics and factors within the EU. The case brings into focus a number of questions about the limits of the EU, both geographically and in terms of its identity.


  • Turkey signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 1963, but only began formal accession negotiations with the EU in 2005. These negotiations are ongoing despite stalling more than once in recent years.

  • Perhaps more than in any other case, Turkey’s accession process has prompted fundamental normative and sociological questions about the limits and nature of the EU and enlargement.

Enlargement Fatigue?

  • After 2004, and certainly in the context of the eurozone crisis, the prospects of further significant enlargements were diminished due to ‘enlargement fatigue’.

Further Reading

Comprehensive coverage of the first four enlargements is contained in C. Preston, Enlargement and European Integration in the European Union (London: Routledge, 1997). It contains sections on the accession process for each new member state and information on other applications. It considers the effects of enlargement on each member state, on the EU’s policies and on the structure and processes of the EU. A complete narrative of how those enlargement negotiations developed, with copious quotations from official documentation, is provided in G. Avery and F. Cameron, The Enlargement of the European Union (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998).

For analyses using conditionality and Europeanization interpretations, see F. Schimmelfennig and U. Sedelmeier (eds), The Europeanization of Central and Eastern Europe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), and H. Grabbe, The EU’s Transformative Power: Europeanization Through Conditionality in Central and Eastern Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

For a full neo-Gramscian analysis, the conscientious student will look at A. Bieler, Globalization and Enlargement of the European Union: Austrian and Swedish Social Forces in the Struggle over Membership (London: Routledge, 2000), although others may find enough information in A. Bieler’s later article, ‘The Struggle over EU Enlargement: A Historical Materialist Analysis of European Integration’, Journal of European Public Policy, 9 (2002): 575–97. This analysis can be usefully compared with that of C. Ingebritsen, The Nordic States and European Unity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).

For a discussion of the drivers behind Turkey’s EU membership process, see, A. Bürgin, ‘Cosmopolitan Entrapment: The Failed Strategies to Reverse Turkey’s EU Membership Eligibility’, Perspectives: Review of International Affairs, 18 (2010): 33–56. For a discussion of the political and normative dilemmas associated with this case, see O. Parker, ‘“Cosmopolitan Europe” and the EU–Turkey Question: The Politics of a “Common Destiny”’, Journal of European Public Policy, (p. 536) 16 (2009b), 1085–101. And T. Diez, ‘Expanding Europe: The Ethics of EU–Turkey Relations’, Ethics and International Affairs, 21 (2007): 415–22.

Visit the Online Resource Centre that accompanies this book for links to more information on the enlargement of the EU, including the website of the relevant Directorate-General of the Commission: