The politics of finalising EU enlargement: Towards an ever looser union?

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Series Details No.19
Publication Date 2002
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The author looks at the final phase of the latest round of EU enlargement from a German perspective. He seeks to ascertain the status of the enlargement process against the background of growing scepticism in the EU and particularly in Germany. The study addresses three key issues: the economic costs and benefits of enlargement; the major factors of support and opposition through an assessment of public opinion in Europe and Germany; and the role of the political elites and governments.

His main conclusion is that a general agreement on enlargement exists between governments, political parties, interest groups and the public of the current Member States.

However, the study argues that even though enlargement has been promoted for economic reasons, integration of the newly acceding countries into the single market will not lead to considerable economic gains for the current Member States. Moreover, the distribution of economic gains will be highly uneven, benefiting border states primarily, while some countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Spain and Portugal are likely to suffer some losses over the medium and long term.

Despite the modest economic gains projected, no significant opposition to enlargement has surfaced. The European public has shown little interest in the enlargement project, thus creating a 'permissive policy environment' for the political elite to go ahead with it. Public support, however, remains higher in the Scandinavian and southern Member States, where the social consequences of enlargement will be less pronounced.

The study discusses Germany's role as a leading advocate of an enlarged EU. A permissive public environment and a strong consensus within the political elite that enlargement is in Germany's interest helped attract the German trade unions, as well as the business community and employers associations, to the side of supporting enlargement as a political priority. The author expects a smooth ratification of the accession treaty in Germany.

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