If we look for concrete references to the problem of enlargement in the press releases issued by the EC at the time of the summit, we only find an affirmation of the redemption defined in Nice. According to this, there are ten countries (Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia) which could be ready to conclude negotiations at the end of 2002 and become members of the Union before the European parliamentary elections in 2004. This means that the Commission under Spanish presidency will have the three most complex files of the whole case to deal with: the budget, regional politics and agriculture. Given the importance of the last phase of negotiations, the modest conclusions concerning enlargement on which the summit ended may appear deceiving. However, several things will have to be taken into account in reconsidering those conclusions.
Firstly, the fact that the European Council maintains that the process of enlargement is irreversible, and on the agenda- defined for the last time in Gothenburg- is crucial. Thanks to this, the whole project has regained political support from representatives of the current 15 member states.
Secondly, in view of the challenges which were presented to the EU at the end of the Belgian presidency (the September 11th attacks, American military operations in Afghanistan and the worsening situation in the Middle East), one may well have expected that the last summit of 2001 would be given over both to these current affairs and to other related issues, like the redefinition of the PESC and the PEC.
Thirdly, the process of enlargement already follows it’s own dynamic force, and it is therefore good that political and economic spill-overs will not be involved. The negotiations take place according to a set of rules written by experts in the majority of cases.
Fourthly, the questions expanded in detail at the Laeken summit and addressed to the Convention, touched on the importance of the EU’s current problems, and it was maintained that the problem of enlargement was their common denominator. The mechanisms and principals of a union of 15 will no longer be applicable in a union of 20 or more. Moreover, every candidate country will be represented in the Convention by two members of parliament and one member of government. In this respect, Pavel Telika, senior negotiator for the Czech Republic in its discussions with the European Community, commented in an interview with the BBC: ‘…We should behave like a future member today, and already be thinking about what sort of a Union we want, what role we want to play and what is important for us…’.
From the four arguments above of the point of view of the candidate countries, we can only welcome the results of the summit which marked the end of the Belgian presidency. Let’s hope that the reason why the final declaration has not been radically new and different is that enlargement is already irrevocable and irreversible. Even if no-one can foresee the state of things in the Union in 2005, it appears that Laeken has reasserted once again the goodwill behind this step towards the unknown, because we can no longer remain fixed in one place.