The Legitimacy of the European Union After Enlargement

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The most urgent issue is to complete the establishment of the eurozone. The euro was conceived as a fair weather tool, and the Maastricht criteria do not secure stability. The integration of the eurozone must cover all other fiscal areas.

Finishing these processes—including the necessary institutional changes—will restore the credibility of the EU and equip the union with the tools its needs to deal with extremism and offer a chance to those members, who at present, do not feel the need for deeper integration. This ambitious process should more or less complete the reunification of the continent after the big bang accession of former communist countries in Still, the question is very relevant. Populism and illiberalism are not exclusively present in the eastern part of the European Union.

But these spreading ideologies have received political representation at the top of the national executives in the region, especially in the cases of Hungary and Poland. It is understandable that there is a fear in the air of an even deeper East-West divide in Europe after any further enlargement.

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Still, the solution should not be to exclude applicants who fulfil the necessary criteria. Instead, current EU mechanisms should be operationalized to monitor and, if necessary, sanction member governments—not member states—that regularly breach the shared values of the European community.

The biggest limit to enlargement is the citizens of the European Union—at least those who feel that, due to economic inequality and stagnant wages, the period of shared prosperity and discretion to the elites is lost. As economic convergence between Eastern and Western Europe has been slowing down and the still fragile middle class has been hollowing out, political polarization in Central Europe has become the norm.

Migration has helped to prop up support for populist politicians and highlights the values gap between Eastern and Western Europe. Yet when it comes to enlargement, Poland has traditionally been the biggest supporter of Ukraine, and Hungary of the Western Balkans. However, the ways in which some Central European leaders are behaving are harming not only the enlargement process but their own agendas, too. Corruption remains the most serious issue across Central Europe.

The political groups of the European Parliament

Yet according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, an astonishing 79 percent of EU citizens think that having too close ties between businesses and government is the main reason behind corruption—which means that the problem is not only about the East. Because the gap between the perception and the practice of corruption is far too wide, anticorruption campaigns are starting to serve political and partisan interests, when the role and competence of the state are the issues that matter most.

Instead, the focus should be on EU reforms that could return hope to citizens in areas like economic governance and the political credibility of the European institutions.

Two enlargements and a devolution

Once the EU finds its way back on the path of internal cohesion, enlargement will become a less divisive issue. The situation in Central and Eastern Europe has a damaging effect on enlargement, except for Romania due to its judiciary and people. Over , people rallied in January to defend the rule of law, democracy, and express their commitment to the European values—and the protests continue.

Unfortunately, many politicians from all the CEE states have one thing in common: the lack of political will to fight corruption, because they benefit from it. Many nationalist and populist politicians from Eastern Europe say they encourage enlargement. Nevertheless, their actions undermine the process by setting a negative example that reduces the trust of citizens from prospective members in the EU and in its power to offer them a safer, fairer, and more prosperous living environment.

Furthermore, the Kremlin is making use of every single weakness of the EU. The situation in the region creates the perfect climate for Russian propaganda to destabilize the union. Enlargement is killing enlargement. Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are not EU poster boys in terms of their illiberal populism and media manipulation. But far more dangerous to future enlargement is the failure to eradicate corruption and state capture, notably in Romania and Bulgaria, and importing border disputes into the EU.

Justifying EU foreign policy in: Rethinking European Union Foreign Policy

Greece and Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina—all refuse to settle borders or even recognize each other. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU despite unfinished business in justice reform; Croatia was treated less leniently, as Serbia is now. They were also willing and able to transfer concrete knowledge of the accession process.

It also gives backing to political forces who have every interest to preserve their current privileges and impunity, and who have been stalling the enlargement process all along. But for all that, there is still Brexit-driven EU reform. Enlargement was always about solidarity with future members of the union. However, so they say, the new members showed no solidarity when it was unity was needed to accept refugees coming to the EU. Conversely, I have never heard a pundit from Brussels admit that between and the six potential EU member economies in southeast Europe the SEE6 have made the EU richer by 97 billion euro through their trade deficits, mostly with Germany and Italy about 75 percent of the SEE6 trade is with the EU.

They also pay substantial interest rates for capital borrowed in the EU.

Eli Gateva

Moreover, about four-fifths of their banking system is in the hands of financial institutions from the EU. The truth is that the Western Balkans are socioeconomically and politically already part of the EU, but with many disadvantages and no voting rights. At the end of the day, it is ideological: some people resent the fact that the EU has not stayed a Carolingian league. Others, who feel responsibility for the future of Europe, should push for the accelerated entry of the SEE6. Central Europe clearly disappoints any expectations that NATO and EU enlargement would provide a framework to develop and sustain open societies.

But with similar trends apparent in older EU member states, it seems myopic to single out the newer ones. Given that the Central European states have had only had fourteen years of experience in the EU and less than three decades of living in open societies—with almost no democratic experience before —it is important to take the long view.

One full generation of Central Europeans have grown up in an open Europe and with democracies, flawed though they might be; they will be followed by more. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming. Baylis, S. Smith and P. Owen eds. The Globalization of World Politics 7 th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press pp. De Lombaerde, R. Flores L.


Iapadre and M. Schulz eds. De Lombaerde ed. From Luxembourg to Lisbon and Beyond. Maastricht: EIPA pp. Deckmyn ed. Increasing Transparency in the European Union? Laursen ed. Odense University Press pp. In our study we developed a set of criteria with regard to three dimensions of legitimacy: Identity, representation and accountability, and performance. Here I limit myself to the representation aspect.

In most contemporary theories of democracy, democracy is tantamount to electoral democracy.

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Of course, the idea of electoral democracy has been developed in the context of the nation-state and it is still a matter of dispute whether it is applicable to the European Union.