The Unfinished Business of the Fifth Enlargement Countries

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

“Five years (or two and a half, in the case of Bulgaria and Romania) following accession, EU membership for the ten central and eastern European states […] has not marked the end of the process of transition of those countries,” writes Assya Kavrakova in a recent report for the European Policies Initiative (EuPI).

“The establishment of stable political systems […] is still a challenge” for the eight central European states plus Bulgaria and Romania, she writes.

“The unfinished business in those countries concerns mainly the policy areas of national competence (political systems, social, educational, health reforms and sustainable economic development) that have been relatively neglected by decision-makers in the pre-accession period for the sake of the accession agenda,” she says.

“There is not any specifically-designed EU leverage to remedy political shortcomings and the EU’s role is limited to safeguarding against extremism in politics through exercising peer pressure and through its policies,” Kavrakova explains.

Moreover, “part of the unfinished transition agenda nowadays has been the result of the constant shift of the focus of the reforms contingent upon the requirements of the European accession agenda,” she adds.

Her report argues that “it is up to each country to develop the capacity to meet those challenges and to complete the unfinished business of the transition in the political domain”.

If the initial years of EU membership for the ten states have been characterised by “remarkable economic growth that coincided and have been reinforced by EU accession and the benefits of the single market and EU pre-accession and structural funds,” the economic and financial crisis is posing additional challenges for the new member states, Kavrakova explains.

“The crisis has exposed the vulnerability of public finances and is challenging the sustainability of economic development, diminishing some of the gains of the accession that have contributed to the economic convergence of the [new member states] with the old ones,” she says.

Moreover, “rapid economic and foreign investment growth has made the economies dependent and vulnerable as it increased domestic consumption and contributed to raising inflation,” she laments.

“In the uncompleted spheres of reform (e.g. health, education, social protection and pensions) the membership leverage […] is insignificant and ineffective in terms of impact because they are entirely of national competence,” Kavrakova writes.

Consequently, “the only potentially effective membership leverage on the [new member states] is euro area accession, as most countries are willing to [make] the necessary efforts in order to qualify” for the single currency, she says.

The lack of progress “further increases the mistrust in the political establishments thus diminishing the already low citizens’ trust in the institutions of representative democracy, which might cause already fragile political systems to become increasingly vulnerable,” she concludes. 

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