The EU expansion saga continues

, by Eric Drevon-Mollard, translated by Lucy Dwyer

The EU expansion saga continues
French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron Wikimedia Commons

On the night of the 17th-18th October, the European Council met to discuss the possible expansion of the EU to include Albania and North Macedonia. Assisted by the Netherlands and Denmark, Emmanuel Macron blocked the process very undiplomatically, provoking the wrath of the Commission, Parliament and the involved countries.

“When the piece of bread is bigger and you put less butter on it, you have to spread the butter thinner, and you end up not being able to see it anymore. Strangely, in the end, it still tastes of bread and butter”. It was with these surreal words that the French president declared to the press his opposition to expanding the European Union to Albania and North Macedonia. Angela Merkel announced her disappointment with the veto. Jean-Claude Juncker, who took part in the membership process, described this decision as a “serious historical mistake”. Likewise, the European Parliament voted in favour of a resolution, with 412 votes for, 136 against (and 30 abstentions), to denounce the joint veto, and to affirm that it “undermines the credibility of the European Union and sends a negative message to other potential candidates”, while the two Balkan countries “had made considerable progress in recent years and fulfilled the EU’s criteria for the launch of membership negotiations”

The dynamics of expansion: a necessary strategy

Indeed, what makes the European Union so attractive to other European countries is the idea that they could join its area of shared prosperity, as well as respect of the rule of law, should they accept our rules and become our allies on the international stage. To interrupt the membership process of potential members weakens the model the EU offers, that makes it so powerful. The risk is obviously that these countries could join other powers: North Macedonia could turn to Russia or China. Albania (which is partly Muslim) could ally with the neo-Ottoman politics of Erdogan, who is also making moves in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Macron’s electioneering

It seems that the French President made this decision for electoral reasons: in attempt to raise his popularity rating by making people believe that he wants to restrict immigration. Therefore, to announce that he is in favour of granting membership to Albania, a lot of whose citizens are trying to emigrate to France, would put him at odds with his discourse. On the 16th October, he explained “how would I explain to my fellow citizens that the second country which seeks the most [political] asylum in France, are the people who come from Albania?”.

Expansion is not possible in light of the current European budget

However, it is possible to understand Macron’s argument: refusing to increase the EU’s budget while welcoming new members at the same time is harmful to the European construction. “The same people who say to us hand on heart “we must expand” are the same who want a budget kept at 1%”, he added, evidently pointing the finger at Germany without explicitly naming them. He rightfully fears that the Union will become “a market with weak coordination”, intensifying inequalities and differences in efficiency between territories instead of reducing them.

Indeed, the countries belonging to the EU are able to join the Euro. However, a common economic policy requires a common fiscal policy of sufficient importance to absorb asymmetric shocks and counter the effect of the territorial polarisation that prompts the removal of customs and regulatory barriers. the French President is right about this; Germany is blocking economic integration.

The EU has not always had this policy, but the overly-permissive budget and certain countries’ lack of seriousness, (including France), who have toned down their enthusiasm and weakened their partners’ trust, to such a point that the German investors prefer to lend their money to countries outside the European Union.

More than ever, this bad overall governance of the European Union shows the extent it is content with the current status quo, where the heads of state of different countries vote unanimously for important political choices, and where a single country can block the others. Such an important decision like the welcoming of a new state member should be made by the lower house with a qualified majority, as should the Community’s budget.

To avoid the problem of certain states overspending their budget, rather than introducing an intrusive procedure —which would be badly received by the public and which would not sufficiently respect the principle of subsidiarity— it would be better to promote transferring increasingly important competences to regions, to lower the volume of national budgets. In this way, healthy competition would encourage each community to offer better public services for a lower amount of tax, which is based on the Swiss model. Thus, trust could be rebuilt between the member states, reviving the expansion spirit until it encompasses the whole of Europe geographically.

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