Analysis: Just what is the EU’s ‘absorption capacity’?

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A Centre for European Policy Studies(CEPS) paper argues that the term “absorption capacity” should be dropped, as it gives a pseudo-scientific impression unless defined and deconstructed into more precise and objective elements.

The authors note that there is a tendency in some political discourse to say that, because the Constitution that was meant to prepare for enlargement failed to be ratified, the enlargement process has now hit a roadblock described as ‘absorption capacity’. 

It is argued that the case for a pause after the 2004 and 2007 enlargements is undeniable. The EU27 will have to settle down and sort out the constitutional imbroglio. However, the plausible time horizon for any future major enlargement is many years ahead, perhaps as far off as 2015, with various transitional arrangements also pushing the likely date beyond 2020. 

The authors find that the vague idea of “absorption capacity” is better deconstructed into more precise and objective components such as the capacity of the EU’s internal market, labour market, budget, eurozone and institutional system to absorb new member states, society’s capacity to absorb immigration and the EU’s capacity to assure its strategic security.

The authors claim that the “final frontiers” proposition (presumably to the exclusion of both Turkey and Ukraine) is a thoroughly bad idea, since there are well-established outer limits in any case to the map of Europe (e.g. Council of Europe membership) and to EU membership as in the Treaty of Rome. It would be a strategic blunder for the EU now to invent a new irreversible dividing line within this map between ‘real Europe’ and an imagined ‘other’ (uncivilised?) Europe, beyond. 

The paper concludes by stating that the term ‘absorption capacity’ should be dropped from use in official texts, unless deconstructed into objective elements. Otherwise, it gives the impression of a pseudo-scientific and static reality and plays into the hands of populist political rhetoric.  

– Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS): Just what is this ‘absorption capacity’ of the European Union? (6 October 2006)

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