European Union & its Expansion Research Paper Starter

European Union & its Expansion

(Research Starters)

This article deals with the enlargement of the European Union (EU). The main issue lies in how the European Union, which includes twenty-eight member countries as of 2013, will deal with further expansion. From its Christian Democratic roots, the European Union places political and moral values at the forefront of its mission toward a European super-state. However, the third component to this entity, economic expansion, takes precedence in modern society. The eight members admitted to the EU in 2004 were postcommunist states, and Euro-skeptics were quick to downplay these nations' rights to join an organization with firm roots in democracy and "old European" ideals of responsible freedom and value relativism. And with these EU inductees, whose economic and social systems were not up to par with the rest of the EU members, the question of who is able to gain entry into the union rose to its peak. The chief point of interest has been the EU's decision in December 2004 to allow accession talks with Turkey, a large Muslim state that has taken the social and political steps toward democracy necessary to gain admittance to the EU.

Keywords Accession; Christian Democratic; Copenhagen Criteria; Enlargement Fatigue; Euro-Atlantic; European Union; Europeanization; Euro-skeptics; Maastricht Treaty; Responsible Freedom; Social Market Economy; Value Relativism

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Formation of a European Super-State

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the European Union had fifteen member states. In 2004, the union added an additional ten central and eastern European nations. Included were Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The year 2007 saw the induction of Bulgaria and Romania, and in 2013, Croatia also joined the ranks of EU member states. These member countries joined the likes of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France in a movement toward a fully functional European super-state. The intent was to have one Europe with common goals and ideals that could stand united as a strong international power.

Copenhagen Criteria

The European Union has a regulatory path for inclusion known as the Copenhagen Criteria. Established in 1993 as a means for formal membership into the EU, the Copenhagen Criteria requires three principles of its applicants before they can submit for accession.

  • First, each member state must have a stable democratic government that focuses on human rights.
  • Second, they must have an economy open to the entire European Union market and with the ability to handle the inevitable competition that will follow.
  • Third, each country desiring inclusion in the EU must have in mind the ultimate goal of being one common body, economically, sociopolitically, and monetarily, when it comes to the greater good of the union. An amendment to this refers to the need for absorption of new members in order to ensure growth.

By 2013, only seventeen of the twenty-eight EU members had enacted the Euro as their common currency (European Union, 2013a). The Maastricht Treaty of 1993, which eventually gave birth to the EU, sets the specific criteria for monetary union. Despite this criteria, the main issue goes beyond tying these nations together under one regulatory code of money. The goal of the European Union is to have all the member states stay true to their individual cultures while focusing on greater moral and political aspirations outside of their homelands. Each member country adopts a responsibility for the well-being and economic concerns of the European community at large in addition to their own citizens.

Christian Democratic Roots

These ideals of unity based on greater moral responsibility stretch from the Christian Democratic roots of the European Union. The European Christian Democrats who began the movement toward union did not see a true European alliance as something based solely on economic expansion capabilities. They instead wished it to be a union of common legal, moral, and economic conditions. They perceived Western principles based on Christian ideals, human rights, and a common law for the greater good as necessary components to a Euro-Atlantic civilization. The modern-day EU is becoming increasingly concerned with how these older perceptions fit with the present day and onward into the future expansion of the European Union. The two main attributes to keep in mind theoretically when it comes to these concerns are the concepts of "responsible freedom" and "value relativism."

  • Responsible freedom is the idea that each nation individually has the task of creating a social situation that mirrors its political practices.
  • This very strong Christian hope has morphed into the idea of value relativism, which states that every nation has the inalienable right to create its moral structure. This gives a lot of freedom to the individual nations but makes them responsible to be moral and ethical in their dealings at home and, ultimately, in the greater community of Europe as a whole.

Due to the 2004 wave of EU inductees, the "Old European," Christian ideology–based hopes for a unified Europe were brought into serious question. These member nations were all relatively poor, postcommunist states whose focus is on monetary subsidies, as opposed to the higher purpose and moral standards that have been central to the European Union.


Euro-skeptics questioned why these countries were admitted. They also wondered what message this sends to future candidate nations who fit the Copenhagen Criteria. Euro-skeptics wanted to know how the EU went from an organization of higher moral purpose to one of a welfare program that could be perceived as throwing money into the hands of inductees as a token for their fitting the bill outlined in the Copenhagen Criteria. It reached a level that many refer to as “enlargement fatigue.” These member nations, many from the former Soviet bloc with nationalist movements, were seen as putting a hindrance on the establishment of a truly unified Europe. Several countries, including Poland, Slovakia, and Lithuania, all had shifts in political power that moved their nations away from the guidelines of the EU. The economic growth and success of the EU in these poorer countries has stopped at the major cities, leaving the smaller, rural areas without the benefit of "Europeanization."

Enlargement Fatigue

An original intent of the EU was to give subsidies to farmers in poor countries such as these. Because the allotment of monies is based on a country's gross domestic product (GDP), a smaller, poorer country will not get the same money in subsidies as a larger nation. These postcommunist EU members have GDPs several times smaller than the long-standing member countries. They have not felt all the positive effects of a Euro-Atlantic social market economy through every social class. This has contradicted the aim of the EU to allocate monies to member nations in order to encourage the economy of the recipients, both for the common good of the nation as well as the entire union as a whole. It is important to remember that the EU’s monetary budget is not infinite. In 2011, there was a budget of 140 billion Euros to disperse, only 30% of which could be devoted to agriculture and infrastructure programs (European Commission, 2012). With increasing membership levels of poorer countries that need more funds, the enlargement fatigue faced by the European Union has become substantial.

The concerns over enlargement fatigue increased further as the European Union headed into its next stage of development that included the inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in January 2007. This brought the total number of EU member nations to twenty-seven. The originally stated maximum for EU commissioners was twenty-fived, as outlined in the treaty that established the European constitution. Each member nation had one commissioner; thus, with the inclusion of more nations, there was concern that there would be less than one voice per country and a lack of representation. Consequently, in December 2007, following the induction of Bulgaria and Romania, the member states signed and ratified the Treaty of Lisbon, which amended earlier treaties, expanded democratic rights and freedoms, and made it possible for members to withdraw from the union (European Union, 2013b; European Union, 2013c). One more country, Croatia, was included six years later, in 2013.

In addition to representation, Euro-skeptics have expressed...

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