EU Enlargement: The Big Idea

The enlargement of the European Union on May 1 concludes a process that began over a decade ago. Although the increase in membership from fifteen to twenty-five will not be the final expansion, the arrival of so many new recruits at any one time in future is highly unlikely. This is not to underestimate the challenges that further enlargement will present – the decision on opening negotiations with Turkey will dominate discussion towards the end of the year – but future growth will follow a tested and refined accession process. So what will be the new big idea? It could just be enlargement!

The World Today
Published 1 April 2004 Updated 16 October 2020 4 minute READ

Professor Richard G. Whitman

Senior Fellow, UK in a Changing Europe

The European Union (EU) lacks, for the first time since the Single European Act was signed in 1985, a grand project. This, coupled with the need to assimilate ten new members into the decision-making processes and the recent failure to find a formula acceptable to all on the EU constitution, leaves it in uncharted waters without an integration lodestar.

But enlargement has not been the Union’s only major undertaking in the last decade. Digesting the contents of the Maastricht treaty, signed in the aftermath of the Cold War and German reunification in 1991, have preoccupied members. Economic and Monetary Union has been realised – after a combination of painful public expenditure restructuring in some states, and nip-and-tuck in others’ public accounts to ensure compliance with the ‘convergence criteria’ of low current account deficits and lowering levels of public debt.

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