The European Union’s enlargement should go ahead as planned or else the EU risks losing public support in the candidate countries, warned the participants of a conference on enlargement in Brussels on 21 November. “Public opinion will play a determining role in enlargement,” the Commission’s Chief Adviser on enlargement, Graham Avery, told the conference prepared by the Central European Opinion Research Group (CEORG).
Public support for enlargement has decreased substantially over the past few years: whilst it was around 80 percent a few years ago, it is now reduced to 50 percent or even less in some of the candidate countries. In the EU, only 44 percent of the citizens support enlargement, according to the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll, released in May 2001.
Dr Bronislaw Geremek, member of the Laeken Group and former foreign minister of Poland, has blamed the decrease in support for enlargement on the democratic deficit in the EU. He stressed that this problem will be exacerbated by enlargement, and that the EU should address it in its next reform conference, in 2004. "Enlargement is not a problem - it is an opportunity. The real problem is what the EU itself is about," said Dr Geremek.
Mr Averysaid that the Commission has included a communication strategy into its enlargement strategy because the EU is often accused of being too technocratic about enlargement. "We want to deal with the problem of addressing the public," said Mr Avery, who is aware of the fact that the citizens of all the candidate countries will have the final say about accession in national referendums.
Chairman of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok, (European People's Party), said that perhaps only a few candidates will join the EU in 2004, but that it was important to proceed with enlargement. "Otherwise it will be more and more difficult to raise support of the people for enlargement," warned Mr Brok.