Absorption capacity – the wrong debate

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article, by Katinka Barysch of the Centre for European Reform, argues that the absorption-capacity debate has so far only looked at the negative side of the enlargement balance sheet.

Further enlargement has always been a question of concern for the EU, notes the author. This is a normal reaction: “an overstretched, gridlocked or internally divided EU would be bad for its existing members and unattractive for newcomers,” she argues.

Barysch views the recent Commission report on absorption capacity (see EURACTIV, 9 November 2006) as a laudable attempt to deconstruct the term, and render it less politically explosive. To start with, the Commission’s use of the term “integration capacity” is seen to be an improvement – no country wants be ‘absorbed’ by the EU.

The term is then broken into three questions:

  • Is the EU able to take in new members?
  • Are the candidates well prepared enough to fit in neatly?
  • Are the people in the EU ready to accept more countries?

The debate up to now has concentrated on the negatives, continues Barysch. However, she adds, it is important that we do not ignore the benefits of enlargement especially “given how much trouble looms in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood”.

Enlargement to Turkey and the Western Balkans “would spread democracy and wealth further across the European continent; it would strengthen the EU’s hands in volatile Middle East and Black Sea regions; it would add young, eager workers to an ageing EU economy; and it would encourage West European countries to find a way of living harmoniously with Muslim immigrants and neighbours.”

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