Outside of the EU, the dream of the Union lives onby Michael Goldfarb / July 24, 2014 / Leave a comment
As perplexing and enraging as it may seem to euro-sceptical British eyes, the European Union enlargement process continues. And that is because for those on the outside, the idea of “Europe” still holds great allure. “Europe for us continues to be the dream that may have evaporated for you,” Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, told a group of journalists visiting Tirana in May. We were on a quick reporting trip to Albania and Macedonia organised by the European Commission.
The EU continues the process of expansion not because its functionaries remain suffused with the idealism of Jean Monnet, but for pragmatic reasons. The carrot of membership is attached to a forbidding stick with which governments only recently acquainted with the rule of law can be threatened. The hope is that if potential members meet the various benchmarks the EU demands before accession, this will raise standards of transparency and governance. It would also prevent the western Balkans from becoming a blank spot on the map where national borders are permeable membranes easily penetrated by smugglers and traffickers of all kinds of contraband, as well as human beings.
But progress towards membership is assessed against more than border security—although that is what concerns most of us. Both Albania and Macedonia are making substantial progress in this area. The bureaucratic process also focuses on political criteria, including fair elections, a functioning justice system, human rights and press freedom, and economic criteria, as well—free markets and the free movement of labour. Then there is harmonisation with the acquis, the accumulated legislation, European court decisions and other legal acts that make up EU Law. These are divided into 35 areas to be assessed. (It really is bureaucrat heaven, the EU).
Since 2006, the whole process of EU enlargement has slowed down—partly due to fears that the criteria were being fudged to allow some former eastern bloc countries into the club before they were ready. Those fears are still present as the tabloid headlines about Britain being overrun by impoverished Romanian and Bulgarian hordes earlier this year demonstrated.
So the process continues, but…