Candidates Too Help Shape the EU’s Future

Martin Brusis, Janis A. Emmanouilidis

in: 9/11 – One Year Later, Internationale Politik: Transatlantic Edition, 3/2002, Vol. 3, pp. 97-100

Berlin 08/2002

This time around, the ten candidates for the next admission of members to the club are taking part in the decisions about the EU’s future evolution. Their delegates are present at the ongoing European constitutional convention. They, too, are seeking an EU Ostpolitik that will help their eastern neighbors, and thus ease unwanted pressures on themselves.

In this year’s European Convention, candidate countries for European Union membership—and not just today’s insiders—for the first time have a voice in defining the Europe of the future. In contrast to the customary EU treaty summits—where murky deals are made by heads of government behind closed doors—this is a much more open process. A convention of some hundred representatives of national governments and parliaments, the European Parliament, the European Commission—and, additionally, representatives of candidate countries—is meeting in year-long public session to forge recommendations for the future constitutional arrangements for the Union.

The European Convention is discussing three major issues on the path to the still undetermined finalité politique, or desired end state of the constantly evolving European Union.

First, responsibilities and competences of the member states and the EU must be redefined and redistributed.

Second, the relationship between the various EU institutions must be adapted to achieve greater democracy, transparency, and efficiency.

Third, the current treaties must be simplified to produce a viable broad constitution of principles in place of the present hodgepodge of regulations in successive EU treaties.

Until now, decisions about treaty reform have been the preserve of the governments of current European Union member states. Candidate countries have been kept informed about negotiations, but they have been denied active participation in the process. For political reasons and in the interest of legitimacy, this exclusion has now ended, quite rightly. If the current European Union members did not let the candidate countries join the debate about a European constitution, then new members would face a fait accompli on accession—or at best, they would be able to influence only marginally the 2004 intergovernmental summit that will make the final decisions on the convention recommendations. Such an outcome would diminish the already weakening popular support for the European Union in the applicant countries.

As the rules have shaped up—after the initially planned exclusion of Central European and other hopefuls from the convention was overturned—all 13 candidate countries, including Turkey, are participating in the convention deliberations. They cannot block a consensus, but they have the same representation as member states, with one government envoy and two national parliamentarians.

In large part because of their lack of engagement, politicians and publics in the candidate states have very little information about convention issues that go beyond their own immediate accession negotiations. In these countries domestic debate on the European Union has been essentially restricted to cost-benefit assessments of accession. Central European political and intellectual elites have generally adopted a very cautious approach and have left serious issues of EU institutional reform to the 15 current Union members.

Yet, since candidate countries now participate in the convention—and, if accession negotiations are concluded by then, will also participate fully in the 2004 decision-making inter-governmental summit—they are now challenged to articulate clearly their views on current European Union reform proposals. Indeed, candidate states’ recent experience in reforming their own institutions in a democratic direction can provide a valuable contribution to the European Union’s search for reform options. From the candidates’ perspective, there are three main priorities for future EU reform: developing a comprehensive security policy; defining solidarity anew for an enlarged Union; and strengthening democratic practice at the European level.

Translating a comprehensive security proposal into a concrete policy holds special importance for future European Union members. The overarching principle of the European security community must be the interlinking of external and internal policies. Therefore the countries of Central Europe in particular support a coherent EU external policy that takes into account the enlarged Union’s immediate environs. A Union of 27-plus members is bound to face new security challenges.

“Eastern Dimension”

Rather than constructing a fortress Europe against its eastern neighbors, the European Union should build strong bridges to them—and the Central European states that will soon be EU members and themselves border on Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine must be consulted closely in formulating the European Union’s neighborhood strategy. These future members will in any case strongly support an “Eastern dimension” along the lines of the cross-border cooperation of the “northern dimension” toward Russia introduced under the Finnish European Union presidency. The candidate countries’ historical and cultural experience and contacts with these neighbors-to-be will be a positive element in shaping the EU’s new  “Ostpolitik” of policy toward states to the east of the European Union.

To avoid erecting any “fortress Europe,” the Union must pay more attention to the impact of its border and visa policies on neighboring countries. To this end, the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy must take into account in its planning, implementation, and revision of common strategies the existing border controls and visa and immigration regimes between Central European membership applicants and their neighbors. Within the sphere of EU justice and home affairs there should be regular checks to ensure the compatibility of these regulations with the concept of the “new neighborhood.”

The enlarged Union should further set up a common European border police, not just to reassure its citizens that the European Union’s periphery is secure, but also to spread the cost of protecting the European Union’s external borders among all member states. Furthermore, current member states should commit themselves to remove border controls with new members as soon as the latter apply the Schengen agreement allowing free movement without passport checks within properly patrolled European Union borders. Without such an undertaking by the EU, there is a risk that the new member states will carry the burden of securing the external borders, but for an indefinite period will themselves remain outside the Europe of free travel.

Finally, the EU should develop a regional dimension to its system of border controls. Rather than putting up new barriers between those that will soon join and others that will have to wait until later, it should support relaxation of existing border controls—between Hungary as a new member, for example, and a Romania that will joint the EU only years later—to permit a looser regime emulating Schengen-type openness. It makes little sense to separate countries with barbed wire and watchtowers, only to pull these walls down a few years later. The erection of such barriers is not only an unnecessary expense; more significantly, it has an enormous negative psychological impact on those kept out.


The question of solidarity in an enlarged Union will, from the candidate countries’ point of view, be an important test of European integration. To be sure, effecting economic catch-up is the responsibility primarily of the future member states. Nonetheless, the European Union’s customary mix of solidarity (rich helping poor members) and “subsidiarity” (assigning responsibility to the lowest appropriate level of governance) should be no less generous for the newest members than it was for the southern Mediterranean tier when Spain, Portugal, and Greece joined the club two decades ago. The accession countries regard as essential their participation in the convention’s recalibration and necessary revision of this balance.

Present arrangements for huge agricultural and infrastructure subsidies to EU members will manifestly become unworkable and far too expensive to fund as membership doubles and the the large Polish peasant population in particular joins the Union. Maintaining the status quo, with 80 percent of EU transfers going to these two tasks, would in any event tie up resources needed for new tasks at the European level. In an enlarged Union, farm and structural policy must therefore seek to shift the system of transfers to a concept of a “development community” that could progressively reduce the rich-poor gap in the EU that will be especially acute with accession of Central European members.

In this framework both efficiency and justice would suggest that available resources be concentrated on the poorest member states. Current constraints on access to grants should be maintained but modified; national co-financing should continue to be a requirement, but the ceiling for structural fund payments should be raised as soon as a recipient country demonstrates a higher absorption capacity. Here the EU’s responsibility must be clearly defined, priorities must be worked out, and action must serve the stated goals.

After the European Convention’s has formulated recommendations for institutional reform and the follow-on intergovernmental summit has acted on them, the EU will have to make its political process more democratic, strengthen the involvement of citizens, and assure greater transparency.

To this end the EU should draw up a constitutional treaty that:

–lets members of the general public participate in the process;

–goes beyond just a simplification of current EU treaty texts; and

–includes an overarching summary of all fundamental principles in the treaty’s opening chapter.

The new constitutional treaty to replace the multiple existing European Union treaties should integrate the Union and its three communities into a single legal personality that would abolish the anachronistic “pillar” system of the EU (with different degrees of intergovernmental and supranational competences in each) and integrate its aims, competences, and institutions. It should also upgrade the present non-binding Charter of Fundamental Rights to a binding bill of rights.

The historic challenge of an enlargement that will double the membership necessitates fundamental EU reform. Cosmetic repairs to the house of Europe are inadequate when what is needed is a major structural overhaul to accommodate ten or more new members in the next few years. The challenge of successfully carrying out such unprecedented internal reform and enlargement can be met only if there has been the widest possible public debate of these issues throughout the whole continent.

Latest publications

Confronting the permacrisis: Time for a supra-governmental avantgarde
Fabian Zuleeg, Almut Möller, Janis A. Emmanouilidis, EPC Discussion Paper, Brussels 07/2024

Eight structural innovations for the EU’s next politico-institutional cycle
Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Fabian Zuleeg, EPC Discussion Paper, Brussels 06/2024

Participatory democracy at the EU level: How to break the invisible ceiling?
Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Corina Stratulat, Observatory Report, EPC & EU Democracy Reform Observatory 03/2024

Europawahl 2024 – was für die EU und Deutschland auf dem Spiel steht
Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Johannes Greubel, Brussels 01/2024

Turning Fear Into Hope
Herman Van Rompuy | Fabian Zuleeg | Janis A. Emmanouilidis | Jacki Davis, EPC 11/2022

Overcoming the ambition-unity dilemma
Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Fabian Zuleeg, Brussels 10/2022

The Future is Now – What next after the Conference on the Future of Europe?
Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Taking Stock, Moving Forward: Reflections Following the Conference on the Future of Europe, Hanns Seidel Foundation & ELIAMEP, Athens 08/2022

Europe’s moment of truth: United by adversity?
Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Fabian Zuleeg, Brussels 07/2022

The von der Leyen European Commission at midterm: Same priorities, different reality
Corina Stratulat, Johannes Greubel, Perle Petit, Danielle Brady, Silvia Carta, Simon Dekeyrel, Francesco De Angelis, Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Melanie Fessler, Emily Fitzpatrick, Andrea García Rodríguez, Tommaso Grossi, Annika Hedberg, Elizabeth Kuiper, Marta Mucznik, Laura Rayner, Stefan Sipka, Brussels 06/2022

Adding Ambition to Europe's Unity
Herman Van Rompuy and Brigid Laffan et al., Project Syndicate, Brussels 06/2022