THE NEW PROSPECTS FOR ENLARGEMENT: EXPLAINING THE EU CHANGE IN ATTITUDE AT HELSINKI TOWARDS THE APPLICANTS FROM C.E.E.

 

BADIU CRISTINEL

 

 

Introduction:

The European Union (EU) is an entity full of paradoxes. To all the puzzles, part today of the EU history, another one can be added, enhancing the perception of the EU as an unique entity, able to adapt itself to the new challenges posed by the international politics. Doubtlessly, the enlargement has been at the forefront of the EUís agenda, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and unquestionably the fall of the communism in all the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) asked for a redefinition of the EU strategy towards these countries, emerging from paralizing era of communism. After years of promises, finally at the Luxembourg summit the EU prepared itself to make the decisive step, namely the decision to open negotiations for accession with the countries in CEE. However, this decisive step, was reduced to a half of a step, when the EU decided that it should start negotiations only with 5 from all the ten applicants from the CEE (plus Cyprus), although at the level of official declarations, all the countries were considered as being covered by the enlargement process and included in the so-called "screening process". Still, the Helsinki Summit in 1999, overturn the decision from Luxembourg, deciding to bring in, the candidates left out in the cold at Luxembourg - Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania (plus Turkey as a formal candidate). In this way, the European Council placed on equal footing all the 13 candidates negotiating for accession, with the candidates in the second track considered able to catch up in the negotiations process.

The key purpose of this paper is to explain the puzzle raised by these two major events, Luxembourg summit and Helsinki summit : Why the EU changed its attitude and decided for a different approach of enlargement?; Why the EU decided to place all the candidates on equal footing, stopping to make differentiation? While the majority of scholars did not expected to see a radical change in the EUís approach of enlargement, the Helsinki decision - with the EU choosing a different enlargement route, surprised the analysts, now finding difficulty to answer other questions such as: Why this change of position towards the left-outs occurred in this particular moment, at Helsinki? Which were the main driving forces behind this decision? What motivated each particular state in supporting this decision? This essay will try to answer this questions by a throughout analysis of the alternative explanations, focusing mainly on two major sets of independent variables that will be linked by two main groups of factors, namely on material factors and on social factors.

One legitimate argument that could be brought from the very beginning, in order to dismiss the assertion of this paper is that the accession of the rest of the CEES come as a normal consequence of their progresses in complying with the Amsterdam criteria, and in this way the EU did nothing else than to keep its promise - expressed in the words of Mr Santer in 1997: "the Commission would not hesitate to propose beginning negotiations as such with the other countries as soon as it notes sufficient progress". If, admittedly, the Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania) were already considered by the EU as fit for starting negotiations at Luxembourg, and, undoubtedly, made significant progress between 1997 and 1999, the puzzle still remains for Romania and Bulgaria (the last slowly emerging from the deep economic crisis) on which the Commission concluded in 1998 that they did not made sufficient progress, pointing out the finger at their weak economies. But, let us briefly summarize the available empirical data. In 1997, Romania and Bulgaria were considered by far the least prepared countries for starting the negotiations for the accession in the EU. At that particular moment in time, the president of the European Council, Jean-Claude Juncker, argued that the enlargement should not be considered only as a "moral obligation", but also as an "honest" enterprise, concluding that the negotiations should not start with other countries than those which are best prepared (Romania and Bulgaria were not among them). In 1998, the European Commissionís reports found plenty of deficiencies among the second-wave applicants, but especially on Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia, the first two receiving the harshest assessment on economic and reform performance (more moderate in the case of Bulgaria), while the latter was heavily criticized on political grounds. In the same time Latvia and Lithuania were considered by the Commissioner Hans van der Broek as making "significant progress in working towards the goal of accession to the European UnionÖLithuaniaís disappointment at being left off the list of the first wave countries had been perfectly understandable". Consequently, if the Baltic states could legitimately hope for a change in the approach towards them, for the other countries in the second-track there was no major reason of optimism. Moreover, despite the Commissionerís words of support: "I have no slightest doubt that Romania and Bulgaria are part of the enlargement process and that these countries will join the EU", not even the war in Kosovo changed his inflexible position: "It could be imaginable to accelerate the accession process (with Romania and Bulgaria because of the critical situation in the Balkans), but neglecting certain criteria would be much more delicate". Thus, the analysis proposed by this essay still makes sense for uncovering the driving forces behind the decision of the EU to change its attitude towards enlargement.

 

1. The international pressure:

One of the arguments that could be brought for understanding the rationale behind the EU decision to change its approach towards the countries in the CEE, could be viewd as linked with the external pressures posed on the EU by USA and generally by the international community (after the Kosovo war) to take decisive steps for improving the stability in the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and implicitly to avoid a second Kosovo where NATO should intervene again. As the US pressured the EU after the NATO summit in Madrid, to include Estonia and Slovenia in the first-wave countries starting negotiations with the EU, presumably the same thing happened after the Kosovo war. While the US was the dominant military power in the Kosovo conflict (with the EU playing a secondary role), it looked that the burden of reconstruction was put on the shoulders of the EU. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: "It is now completely appropriate for the Europeans to take the lionís share of paying for the reconstructionÖThere is a great sense of understanding that that is correct and very much a sense that this is Europeís backyard and that they should and will take the responsibility". Furthermore, it was suggested that the Western Europe, which benefited from the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, and Central Europe, which received Western help after the Cold War, should now pass on the benefits to the rest of Europe. "From my conversations with the Europeans, they are not shirking that responsibility. They believe their time has come. They are ready, willing and able to do their part". Consequently, this could be considered as a plausible explanations. Still other ones have to be outlined.

 

2. The EU in itself decide for a change in approach: When referring to the EU itself as promoting the change in approach a number of variables have to be considered.

 

  1. Geopolitical reasons:

First of all, it is possible that the European Union in itself decided, due to geopolitical reasons directly linked by the Kosovo crisis, to integrate countries like Romania and Bulgaria, as part of the most sensitive area in the Central in Eastern Europe, besides the Baltic states (which presumably already fulfilled all the criteria for being accepted as first-track candidates). In this respect, the German Foreign Minister for European Affairs said that "it was possible and desirable for geopolitical reasons to pursue simultaneously the deepening and the widening of Europe", even though he was still in favor of preserving the current enlargement strategy. Thus, the inclusion of the countries from the slow-track group, was primarily driven by the security interests of the Member States, and could be regarded only as a side-payment, especially for Romania and Bulgaria for their (strategic) role in Kosovo. European institutions played the helpers role for the self-interested states to efficiently attain their interests. Thus, "the Commission proposal adroitly satisfies those calling for a broad "geopolitical" approach, while carefully ring-fencing the current tail-enders".

 

    1. Change in the balance of power among the member states:

In 1997 at Luxembourg, as Dinan Desmond maintains a number of EU member states supported the cause of their so-called "pet-countries" . Specifically, France sustained the application of Romania, while the Nordic countries - Sweden, Denmark and Finland, those of the Baltic states. Presumably, the most successful was the pressure exerted by Sweden and Denmark, which succeeded in the end convinced the other EU states to accept the "screening idea" . One alternative explanation for the new approach adopted at Helsinki could be the change in the balance of power within the EU member states, favoring now the states, which, previously, already supported the new approach (to which other states, as Britain, adhered). Evidently this explanations could be easily rejected, due to the lack of hard-empirical evidence or simply because it does not take into account all the applicants (for example it is not clear which country supported Bulgaria), but still it should not be completely disregarded as an alternative answer to the puzzle. It is possible that, even though this argument does not provide the whole answer, it can still provide half of the answer.

 

c. Social/Diffusion of norms:

However, the analysis of the EU as a key promoter of change should also be regarded from a different perspective, namely that of social diffusion of norms of democracy and stability within the region. According to Jeffrey Checkel, when thinking to the norms in the EU context, two issues have to be addressed: a) the process through which these norms arise at the European level and b) how do these norms interact with agents. Regarding the first point, constructivists argue; first that it could be the well-placed individuals that can turn their individual beliefs into shared understanding (for example in this case the new president of the Commission Romano Prodi, trying to bring a new vision on enlargement, or the leaders of some member states - Tony Blair); second that these entrepeneurs are especially successful when the larger group in which the entrepeneur operates, faces a puzzle that has no clear answer, or is new or unknown (in this case: the response of the EU to the new realities in the Balkans) and third through the process of social learning. This last notion, of social learning comprising both processes of simple and complex learning needs further investigation. Undoubtedly, the effects of social learning can vary. Rationalists consider that learning has no further effects than the behavioral ones, treating the identities and the interest as given and unchangeable, stressing the fact that the acquisition of new information about the environment enables actors to realize this constant interests in a better way. The case of simple learning is similar, the effects going no deeper from the level of the behavioral effects. Putting it differently the objectives do not change but the actors learn about the different ways for achieving them. By contrary, the constructivist approach emphasize the possibility that learning may also have "construction effects on identities and interests" , which is basically defining the process of complex learning. In this case the objectives are the one that changes through interaction. Following this logic path of simple learning it might be inferred that the EU, and naturally the member states learned about a better way to achieve security and stability, that is by the integration of the countries in the CEE. Consequently, they decided to modify, what was regarded until then as a sufficient strategy for enlargement, insuring a "comfortable sense of gradual evolution", into a new approach of enlargement as a need to adopt to the new realities in South-Eastern Europe. On the other hand it might be inferred that the objectives of the EU changed dramatically, again in close relation with the events in Kosovo. The EU placed now in the top of the list the political objectives, which presumably were more important in that moment than the economic ones, especily for the future of the EU as a whole, and thus even though the countries in Central and Eastern Europe (e.g. Romania and Bulgaria) did not fulfilled the economic criteria, the EU decided that it is more important for the future of the EU to strengthen the democracy in the Central and Eastern Europe. However, from the empirical data, it could be inferred that the EU institutions, (namely the Commission) and the member states have not learned in the same time. As far as the diffusion mechanism is concerned, it could be viewed as being top-down in its nature, social learning and not the political pressure leading agents (represented by the elite decision makers) to adopt and diffuse certain norms.

Directly linked with the process of norm-diffusion the analysis of Lykke Friis could offer more insights for clarifying the reasoning behind the decision of some of the countries within the European Union to support the new approach ( e.g. Britain). Departing from Moravschikís analysis, who focuses only on two variables for explaining the outcome of "grand bargains", namely the state preferences and the bargaining power, Friis further assumes that the EU is not just an ordinary regime, where the governments act for maximizing their self-interests, but also a "negotiated order", with "constant negotiations influenced by a normative foundation or reigning idea". According to him the emergence of a certain "Community culture" makes the governments look beyond their selfish-interests, namely to the interests of the overall system., having their preferences "shaped by the overall system". In this context the community impose to the actors a different interaction among them, a redefinition of their interests leading to a reconsideration of the policy goals. Putting it in the words of Weiler: "To the interest of the state must be added the interest of the community". Nevertheless, the key element, as Friis mention it, in the process of EU negotiations is the environment dominated by uncertainty (accentuated here by the Kosovo moment), transforming the whole process of negotiations into a kind of interaction, seeking for the best solution. The states became, in this case, more conscious about the security-interests of the Community in its entirety, and consequently they changed their position regarding the new approach for enlargement. The social factors started to play the dominant role.

In 1997, at Luxembourg, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, fully supported the assessment of the Commission, agreeing with the idea of starting the first round of negotiations with the six chosen applicant countries (the fast track group). Despite the fact that Spain, Greece, Portugal, Sweden Denmark and Italy, strongly advocated for the "regatta option", claiming that a differentiated approach would be nothing else than a "new dividing line" , they were not able to change much of what was already decided. Only at the insistence of Denmark and Sweden the EU decided to include a compromise proposal, specifically the so-called "screening-process", which admittedly did not help much the countries left-out at Luxembourg. Interestingly enough, the EU succeeded in avoiding the use of the term "differentiation" at Luxembourg that could create for some countries a feeling of exclusion, by using a careful "wording" - a group of 6 (allowed to start negotiations immediately) and a group of 5 (those who have to wait), or "ins" and "pre-ins"

However, after the Kosovo moment, the position of the states opposing to the idea of inclusive process of enlargement, started to change being concerned more about how the interests of the Community as an undivided entity could be achieved. In this context, it also look that the social factors played the decisive role. The example of England is eloquent. In 1997, its position was clearly one of opposition regarding any other approach than that of differentiation. However, in 1999 the position of Britain radically changed. In this sense the discourse of the prime -minister Tony Blair in front of the Romanian parliament is relevant: "At the Helsinki European Council in December, Britain will support an invitation for Romania to begin negotiations to accede to the European UnionÖBritain was always part be part of that process. Let me emphasize that the British government is committed to the earliest possible accession of Romania" (10 May 1999). Even though the British premier did not mentioned specifically Bulgaria, his discourse clearly added to the already growing pressure of the other EU leaders to rapidly expand the negotiations for full membership with the other so-called "slow -track" group, including the least prepared Balkan countries (Romania and Bulgaria), facing obvious economic difficulties related to the war in Yugoslavia. Undoubtedly, Kosovo was a efficient catalyst for EU Member states to reflect on the European Union approach to foreign affairs, and in which extent the present approach on enlargement is still valid - or for how long. If until the Kosovo moment, the Member States considered the enlargement process was running smoothly, with the candidates making the progress, the EU was expected them to do, the emergence of the misfortunate crisis in the sensitive region of Yugoslavia, "exposed the inadequacies of the approach to the South-East Europe, and also the weaknesses in the EUís general planning.

d. The role of rhetoric: Certainly, the analysis regarding the EUís change in attitude towards the CEE countries part of the second-track group, should not neglect the rhetorical action of the member states. This aspect of rhetorical action (the strategic use of arguments) related directly to the Eastern enlargement have to be regarded as an "intimate relationship between norms and rationality". Even though, actors are not seriously committed, they have at least to pretend this kind of commitment to the community values, since any opposition, would present them as traitors of the common values. This could explain why certain countries within the Union having at Luxembourg a different perspective on how enlargement should go ahead, changed their position at Helsinki (and admittedly after the delicate Kosovo conflict) and supported the new approach. Basically, Schimmelfennig refers to this process as rhetoric entrapment. "If a member state had openly opposed the democratic CEE countries belonging to "Europe" and their entitlement to membership, it would have put at stake its "European" reputation, i.e. its credibility and legitimacy as a Community member". Nonetheless, it coud also be presumed that some countries (for example Germany and Britain) wanted to be perceived differently after the Kosovo war, in the international arena.

 

e. The role of the EU institutions:

In addition, to this attitude of the member states, the position of the institutions have also to be taken into account. Despite the fact that many of the EU member states realized the need for a new approach, the EU institutions differed in their positions, with the Commission (in its former composition, with Jacques Santer as president) opposing or at best being ambiguous in respect to this proposal. While the president of the European Parliament, Jose Maria Gil - Robles (28 April), clearly stated that "the Kosovo crisis and the growing instability in the Balkan region was showing a clear political need to give a fresh boost to the EU enlargement", the European Commissioner, Hans van den Broek stated in April 27 1999, that the European Commission is not going to change its current methodology, despite the growing political pressure for a favorable "fast track" treatment allowing Romania and Bulgaria to start the membership negotiations. Moreover, Hans van der Broek mentioned that: "the process of starting negotiations is not just a symbolic gesture, but should be a decision based on real progress which has been made towards complying with the accession criteria. Therefore there should be found a balance between this elements" . Only with the change of the Commission brought radical modification of its position, with the new Commissioner for Enlargement, Paul Verheugen declaring that he "will insist that the same criteria and conditions apply to all candidate countries". Later, the same commissioner will try hard to sell the Commissionís inclusive approach, which according to him "tries to balance the idea of a larger Europe with being realistic enough not to jeopardize what has already been achieved" (balancing speed with quality) and convince in this way to change the mind of the doubters.

Another issue that has to be considered in discussing the role of the Commission in the change in the enlargement policy, is the attempt of the new Commission to restore its reputation after the previous one had to resign after it was confronted with serious accusations of corruption. The new approach of enlargement could be considered as one of the main steps took by the Commission to change its image of inflexible body and cast a new light on its activity. Both the European Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen and the Commission president Romano Prodi, tried hard to persuade the undecided states to change their position and support the new approach. One the one hand the Commission used the argument of the risks of inertia, suggesting that "the window of opportunity could easily slam shut again", leading to public frustration. On the other hand, the Commission tried not to forget about the concerns of the doubtful countries regarding the new approach maintaining that the inclusion will occur: "on the basis of merit not on the basis of compassion". The persuasive rhetoric of the Commission and nevertheless that of some of the member states was extremely careful and productive in the same time. Chris Patten the External Relations Commissioner spoke about bringing in the countries in Central and Eastern Europe, not only as about a "strategic case" but also as about a "moral case". "This approach certainly save the Commission from the pressure to give the new hope to the applicants in the South-East Europe that had been most vulnerable during the Kosovo crisis, providing some moral repayment for the moral debt to Bulgaria and Romania for their indirect or indirect assistance to Euro-Atlantic policies and the NATO campaign against the Serbian aggression".

But this is only one of the facet of the coin. There is also another plausible explanation. By applying a new approach for enlargement, the Commission did nothing else than to afford itself more flexibility in dealing with all the applicant countries. The Commission gave a lot of hopes with one hand but with the other was prepared to take them back, as a need to alleviate the concerns of some of the member states Thus, the generosity of the Commission was also accompanied by some new rigor too. Its new instrument for proceeding ahead with the enlargement not only allows to include everyone who meets the Copenhagen political criteria, but it also equally allow it to exclude anyone who does not meet the EU expectations. Poland and Czech Republic, considered themselves as targeted by this new approach. Alarmed by the slow progress in preparations and by the even more difficult process of negotiations (especially with Poland), the Commission is able through this decision to delay the accession date for some of the applicants for as long as it wishes. The new approach abolishes the first wave and thus it could allow the EU to discreetly penalize the candidates - which is impossible under the current approach, "where the political price of demoting first-wave candidates to the second wave is too high to pay". Nevertheless , this approach also allowed the Commission to be extremely severe with the second track countries aspiring to full membership - particularly with Romania and Bulgaria that "have to meet criteria that remain less than clearly defined" (an argument that can be also linked with the idea of side-payments).

It can be inferred from the data previously presented that the Commission has simultaneously met two challenges: it has responded to the broad geopolitical imperatives of the post-Kosovo Europe, opening the doors of the Union to the maximum, and at the same time, it found a solution to deal with the growing split between what the applicants promise to do and what they actually deliver. In this way the Commission was also able to convince the states fearing the effects of the new approach that it will actually be more helpful for the EU as a whole, in preserving the aquis communitaire.

3. Lobbying by Turkey, first - track and second Ė track applicants :

Another type of explanation can be brought here , with reference to the pressuring lobbying that could possibly be exerted for a change in position towards the countries in the second track. This intensive lobby could have come from the part of the first-track applicants, from Turkey or from the second-track countries themselves. This could be an alternative explanation, but the question arising here is: how realistic is that explanation and in which extent it can be proven by facts?

As far as the first-track applicants are concerned, their position at Luxembourg was clearly stated in favor of differentiation, as a correct and legitimate decision of the EU. Hungary, for example as the Hungarian ambassador at Luxembourg stated, had "serious problems" in accepting the idea that the negotiations will start with all the applicants, since "treating all the applicants in the same way would mean that it omits to assess and to take into account the efforts and progress achieved (or otherwise) by these countries over recent years; What then would all the work the work done, and all the sacrifices asked of the population during the past eight or nine years, amount to, if the EU did not take this into account?". Furthermore, Polandís Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was "deeply satisfied" with the EUís decision to begin accession negotiations in the formula "5 + 1", as a recognition, by the EU of the Polandís good state of preparedness. Presumably Czech Republic supported the candidature of Slovakia, but there is not a clear-cut position of support for the inclusive approach. During 1998 and 1999, all these three countries preserved this kind of individualistic position struggling for the promotion of their own candidature and for setting clear data for accession rather than lobbying for a change in the EUís approach. Nevertheless, the first-track countries realized that by acting as a group rather than as individualistic member states, they could increase their bargaining power in relation with the Union, thus it is more realistic to presume that they were supporting each other and not the outsiders. At the same time they realized that by supporting the outsiders, they will make themselves a disfavor, since the whole process will be slowed down, due to the weak position of the second-track applicants. At Helsinki, even though they expressed their support for the Commissionís decision, they were still trying hard to convince the EU to present clear dates for accession. Specifically, Czech Republic, even though it considered the candidature of Slovakia as extremely important, it still expressed reservations about the new approach, joining Poland, which considered the results of the Helsinki Summit as unfavorable for Polandís integration into the EU. Consequently, there is not much reason to rely on this type of explanation for determining the factors that determined EU to change its enlargement strategy. In the same rationale could be included Turkey, which, even though admittedly lobbied, it has focused on its own acceptance as a formal candidate rather on the other countries in CEE. As far as the countries in the second-track are concerned, even though they could have lobbied, the most they could obtained was the support for going ahead with the reform process and political progress, but not a specific promise of support. One further issue should be discussed regarding the lobbying role of the countries in the second track, namely that of rhetoric. As Frank Schimmelfennig outlines, these discourses that refers to enlargement as a "return to Europe" or as a dissolution of the "artificial division" established at Yalta, are usually used by the CEE governments to justify their countryís official request for EU membership as the "return of this Community to which it has always belonged". Moreover, after the Kosovo war, the argument of "stability" and "the CEE as a security flank for EU", become wide-spread in the rhetoric of the CEE - outsiders.

 

CONCLUSION:

All in all, even though the empirical data provided by this paper support the argument that the

new approach comes as a consequence of the EU security concerns, without changing dramatically the way the candidates will be assessed (basically allowing more flexibility in dealing with the candidate countries), and representing for some candidates like Romania and Bulgaria, a side Ė payment for their role in Kosovo, rather than a way for awarding their overall progress for acceding to the EU, this points should not be regarded as absolutistic. It will be more than appropriate to consider all the potential factors of impact for such a decision, not only pre-fixed preferences and bargaining power (as Moravschik points out) but also this mechanism of norm Ė diffusion, with the EU deciding to export its norms of stability and democracy in the Central and Eastern Europe as an efficient way of preventing future conflicts in the region. Undoubtedly, states have played a major role in whole this process, but the institutions (mainly the new European Commission) were not at all behind in supporting the inclusive approach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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