European associations - whether they represent industry, trade unions, NGOs or other interests - are directly affected by the European economic and political integration process.
Arguably the biggest milestone in European integration in terms of impact on business associations was the 1986 Single European Act, which launched the single market. The SEA went far beyond economic integration, activating the 'social dialogue' called for by then Commission President Jacques Delors and triggering the creation of new associations defending social rights in an integrated European market.
The latest enlargement on 1 May 2004 was another major milestone with the EU growing from a 15-member entity with 375 million people to a 25-member entity with 455 million.
Here are some of the practical impacts the enlargement process has brought for most associations:
Increased size with new members joining
- As a consequence of size, associations have often had to adapt their internal decision-making processes, finances, statutes and executive bodies to accommodate new members
- Increased travel due to more meetings (trainings, workshops, conferences)
- Increased need for networking and internal communication (extranets - ie restricted access websites) and related language/communication challenges
New issues brought in by the new members
- For some, opening new branches in Eastern capital cities
A common challenge for most associations is to deal with the lack of financial resources of their new members. For example, membership fees and travel expenses are extra costs for the new members. Although likely to remain for some time, they are gradually being resolved as the countries catch up with standards of living in the EU-15.
In terms of advocacy and lobbying, enlargement has also influenced the functioning of EU institutions by bringing new civil servants and influencing the EU's decision-making process.
Changes in Parliament were the most visible. One hundred and six new MEPs arrived from the new member states, shifting the balance of power to the right with a high proportion joining the more conservative EPP/ED group. New MEPs are widely perceived as more Atlanticist and pro-business oriented than those from the former EU-15 (see EURACTIV, 23 Feb. 2005)
Consultants at Kellen Europe have pointed to initial complications for national associations in the EU-10 with education and training needed to adapt to the EU's complex regulatory environment. But, in the end, Kellen believes associations will benefit from increased economic activity and EU funding.
Federations in the services sector have seen tremendous opportunities from enlargement with harmonisation of rules thanks to the single market. Increased professionalism is put forward as one of the main advantages of joining the EU as well as better recognition of professional qualifications, as illustrated by the International Moving Industry Federation (FIDI), which developed standards and accreditation at international level.
The International and European Associations for the Study of Obesity (IASO and EASO) have focused their strategy on tailoring services to "meet the needs of the new Europe". Scientific conferences, training programmes and travel grants all have been used to encourage entry into the network. But in the long run, IASO-EASO highlights the use of virtual tools such as websites to satisfy the new member's thirst for information and to disseminate good practice at affordable costs. The association's golden rule to manage diversity is "celebrating differences, respecting contributions new members have to offer and developing strategies which are locally responsive as well as globally integrative".
The EU enlargement process has inspired some academics to develop the notion of internal diversity and culture management in organisations. Prof. Dr. Klaus Boehnke from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the International University Bremen (IUB) says the integration of ten new states into the European Union has brought in "not only countries with quite a different socio-economic background, but also countries with quite different expectations as to how people interact with each other".
Drawing conclusions from a survey carried out in about 70 countries, Boehnke says "all accession states put a higher cultural emphasis on values of embeddedness, such as 'Social Order', 'Obedience', and 'Respect for Tradition'". Translating these results in terms of internal management, Boehnke advises taking into account the fact that "the head officer has to be asked about everything". The good news, he says, is that cultural differences among older EU members are "almost as big as the differences between incumbent members and accession states".