As the EU prepares to mark the fifth anniversary of the biggest enlargement in its history on 1 May, conservative Western politicians are insisting in their EU election campaigns that the time has come “to close the doors” to further expansion, MEPs have warned.
German Green MEPs Gisela Kallenbach, her party’s rapporteur for a recent enlargement report, and Angelika Beer, her party’s spokesperson for foreign and security policy, warned yesterday (27 April) that the EU election campaign must not threaten the Western Balkans’ EU accession prospects.
In light of a vote last Friday in the European Parliament on Swedish member Anna Ibrisagic’s (EPP-ED) report on “consolidating stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans,” Kallenbach and Beer raised concerns over what they consider a “dangerous form of campaigning”.
“The good news is that the EU sticks to its position of unlimited accession prospects for all countries in the Western Balkans. This prospect pushes reforms in these countries and is a guarantee for stability in the entire region,” the MEPs said in a statement.
“We do, however, regard the messages from conservatives and social democrats – who would rather close the door to south-east Europeans than to open them – as a dangerous form of election campaigning. There is no reason to tell the people in south-east Europe again: Europe needs a period of reflection or a break from enlargement, apart perhaps from Croatia. This can only play into the hands of nationalist movements and disappoints those people, whose hope for democracy, stability and peace is closely connected to an accession to the EU,” read their press release.
They further warn that if enlargement were to stop now, those who will benefit are nationalist and populist forces in the Western Balkans.
“We must not allow nationalist and social issues to converge into a dangerous mix, for the EU as well as the countries concerned,” the MEPs warned.
In a recent interview with EurActiv, Erhard Busek, special enlargement advisor to the Czech EU Presidency and former deputy chancellor of Austria, did not hide the fact that his own country was opposed to enlarging to Turkey, but said he believed that Vienna favoured enlargement to the Western Balkans.
As for Germany, Busek said the election campaign ahead of the national elections in September was blocking any decisions or discussions regarding EU enlargement (EurActiv 17/04/09).
Ahead of the enlargement celebrations, the Czech Presidency slammed Germany and Austria for failing to fully open their labour markets to citizens from new member states. “Germany and Austria are the only two member states where the limitations still apply,” reads a release from the Czech EU Presidency, underlining that free movement of workers contributes to economic growth and the competitiveness of the European Union.
Speaking to EurActiv, EU representatives agreed with the assertion that celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the 2004 EU enlargement were set to be rather low key. A conference to mark the occasion will take place in Prague, but not much will happen in Brussels on 1 May.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will give a press conference and play in a football match. Poland, which hosted the EPP congress this week, organised a five-kilometre run and an event at which they presented a report summarising five years of Polish EU membership.
With the end of the Second World War in 1945, Europe found itself divided into two spheres of power. In 1989, the Cold War came to an end, and as the former Communist countries began their transition to free market democracies, the European Communities put the enlargement issue on the agenda.
Analysts see the fifth EU enlargement as a milestone that was unprecedented in the history of the European Union. Eight Central and Eastern European countries – Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia, together with Cyprus and Malta, joined the EU on 1 May 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2007.
- European Parliament:Western Balkans: reaffirmed European perspective to stabilise the region
- European Parliament:Adopted text on Western Balkans (click on 24 April)
- Czech Presidency:From the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 to the EU enlargement in 2004
- European Commission:Olli Rehn, speech at the 23 April European Parliament Plenary session