Lawmakers debate EU’s ‘absorption/integration’ capacity

Academics and parliamentarians discussed the Union’s further enlargement recently, with the panel urging that the public be better informed.

The basis for the 30 November 2006 discussion was a paper from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) entitled ‘Just what is this absorption capacity of the EU?’

The participants largely agreed that the term “integration capacity” was more appropriate. Nevertheless, the speakers had different visions on what the future enlargement of the EU should be. Some examined which countries the EU should eventually integrate, while others placed more emphasis on the institutional reforms the EU should undertake to be fit for further enlargement.

Senem Aydin from CEPS pointed out that the main problem of the debate was the gap between perception and reality. Public opinion has become a major component of the concept of integration capacity, but people were misinformed about the actual consequences of enlargement.

Her fellow researcher and author of the CEPS paper on absorption capacity, Michael Emerson, said that the term "absorption capacity" had to be deconstructed. He analysed the EU's capacity to integrate new member states, including Turkey, and found that on the issues of markets in goods and services, labour and finance, institutional functioning and strategic security, this did not pose a serious problem. Emerson said that the capacity of society to absorb new member states was in fact the most sensitive aspect of absorption capacity. On the problems of "islamophobia" and the "Muslim factor", he called for public opinion to be better informed.

Liberal MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck underlined that the EU had to remain committed to the promises it made to Turkey and the Western Balkans. She also referred to the fact that public opinion often sees enlargement as a failure and urged politicians to better communicate the enlargement of the EU as a success story.

Christian Democrat MEP Doris Pack thinks that the EU should define its limits, but also that the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) can help to forge closer ties to end "frontier talk". She also said that the EU should take care of its internal reforms before it sets standards for candidate countries.

Green MEP Joost Lagendijk said that the concept of absorption capacity was largely used by those who are against further enlargement and especially Turkey joining. He also agreed that the key issue was public support of further enlargement, underlining that this was a lesson to be learned from the Constitution. He also pointed to the fact that, according to Eurobarometer, 40% of people are undecided on the issue of enlargement. Therefore, he said, public support can be influenced, but this needed political leadership. He opposed fixing the "final borders" of the EU.

Alexander Stubb, rapporteur for the Parliament's report on the EU's capacity to integrate new member state and member of the EPP-ED group in the parliament, laid out the three main components of his definition of "integration capacity": institutional, financial and political. He also emphasised that integration capacity was actually not a criterion applicable to candidate countries, but that it was member states' responsibility. Therefore, he urged the adoption of institutional changes proposed in the Constitution and called on national politicians to take up their responsibility of informing the public.

On 8 November 2006, the Commission published a paper on the EU’s capacity to integrate new members as part of its Enlargement Strategy report. On 13 November 2006, the Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs approved a report on the institutional aspects of the EU’s capacity to integrate new member states.

Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.