The Brief – Enlargement Blues Redux

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The EU is so rich in good quotes. Some are so good they can apply for a very, very long time. Today’s Western Balkans developments provided a trip down memory lane.

“I am politically realistic enough to recognise the problem of hostility to enlargement. Frankly, Europe has the blues about many issues. The enlargement blues are directly related to people’s concerns about globalisation, immigration, the future direction of European integration, and a host of other issues.”

“In my view, the only way to overcome the blues is to revitalise the whole European project.”

“In some founding member states, such as Germany and France, opposition to enlargement does not stem only or even mostly from fear of the Polish plumber or cultural rejection of Turkey. Rather, it is because people feel that they don’t know where the European project is heading.”

No, these quotes do not come from Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who addressed MEPs today (6 February) to present the executive’s new Strategy for the Western Balkans, or from one of his Commissioners (although there are many similarities).

It was the former Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn, who said those words in a speech he delivered on 11 October 2006. At the time, I covered his speech as a journalist in Bulgaria and penned an article called “The Enlargement Blues Speech”.

More than eleven years have passed since then. And it’s been almost 15 years since the Thessaloniki EU-Western Balkans summit but speechwriters can still copy-paste from the old documents.

Quote from Thessaloniki Conclusions:

“The EU reiterates its unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.”

“The countries of the region fully share the objectives of economic and political union and look forward to joining an EU that is stronger in the pursuit of its essential objectives and more present in the world.”

And lastly, some quotes from the BBC European affairs correspondent William Horsley, from a June 2005 article, auspiciously titled “EU’s ‘enlargement blues’”.

So it’s probably Olli who got inspired by William, rather than the other way around.

“The leaders of France and Germany are trying, after the latest debacle, to show they still have joint ambitions for the “construction of Europe”.

The candidates in the EU’s waiting room must hope that their invitations are not dropped because some EU countries have other things on their minds.”

Actually, repetition is all-important in blues songwriting. The first line is repeated twice, first over the tonic section and second over the sub-dominant section. The second line is sung over the dominant section and often sums up the emotion of the first line.

A good example of this structure is found in How Many More Years, where Howlin’ Wolf sings:

How many more years, do I have to let you dog me around,

How many more years, do I have to let you dog me around,

I’d rather be dead, sleeping well down in the ground“.

We don’t know how the Western Balkan countries feel now but 20+ years is a long time to wait.

The Roundup

Croatia was the last new country let into the EU and its prime minister today told the Strasbourg plenary that a border dispute with Slovenia needs a solution that makes both sides happy.

It was a record year for renewable energy for various reasons in 2017 but nuclear power cooperation between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands leaves a lot to be desired. MEPs in Strasbourg also signed off on the EU’s emissions trading scheme update.

The European Investment Bank will later today reveal if it will grant its biggest ever loan to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline. The Commission will define what ‘green investment’ actually is, in May.

Make sure you cook your chicken properly, because salmonella is back on the menu in Europe. Megafirms Bayer and Monsanto are still trying to convince EU competition queen Margrethe Vestager that their merger is above board.

A pharmaceuticals investigation in Greece threatens to throw the country’s political scene into turmoil, after a number of its ranks appear to have been implicated in it.

The Ombudsman is doing a round of the institutions this week. Maybe it’s worth looking into how transparent the Commission is with its college meetings, as publication is allegedly taking longer than it used to.

Transnational lists: good or bad idea? Check out two well-thought out opinion pieces from both sides of the argument. French MEP Alain Lamassoure told Aline Robert that it’s a crazy plan.

One man firmly in favour of the lists is former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt. The Hof and Juncker were caught enjoying a light-hearted moment earlier today.

Look out for…

The Parliament will decide what to do with the UK’s 73 seats once it Brexits itself into isolation.

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