Whats in it for us? An overview of the arguments against enlargement

Article published on Nov. 11, 2002
community published
Article published on Nov. 11, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

As Europe is now preparing for its fifth round of expansion, which would include up to 12 new countries from central and Eastern Europe, citizens of the existing member states are showing growing concern about the future of Europe. Are such worries founded? Should we fear expansion to the east?
Or are we inventing a nightmare scenario and overlooking the benefits that enlargement would bring for the EU members?


Among the concerns that many people from Western Europe express, is the fear that enlargement will catalyse mass immigration to the wealthier EU states. As barriers will go down, people from Eastern Europe will be able to move feely to the West and seek jobs there. This prospect serves only to increase the already growing concern from Western Europe about immigration, which has been clearly reflected by the rise of extremist right-wing parties in these countries. Unfortunately for Mr Le Pen et al. however, European Enlargement is not likely to cause an influx of workers from new member countries, who will steal jobs from true citizens. First of all, people are usually very reluctant to move from their home country, family and friends unless they have special circumstances which drive them. Language alone is a significant barrier to make people consider the prospect of moving out twice. Similar concerns for immigration were expressed when Spain and Portugal were to join the then EC. Yet, the strengthening of the economy in both of these countries which was a direct result of EC membership made immigration in other member states less attractive. The same is likely to happen in Eastern Europe. With the prospects of political stability, the outlook for economic growth and better living conditions in their home countries, citizens from newly admitted states will see little interest in moving out of their country.

The second reason why immigration should not be an issue of concern is that we actually desperately need foreign workers. The demographic trend in many EU countries is one of an ageing society in which the need for skilled labour in certain sectors is alarming. Free movement of workers is highly desirable in the future to ensure that the economy continues to perform well.

Cost burden

It is true, Enlargement is as extremely expensive project. According to one estimate, it will cost 25 billion euros over the first three years, assuming 10 members join in 2004. Put another way, it amounts to 100 euros per EU citizen per year. Moreover, although the population of the EU could rise by over 25 per cent with the first wave of accession, its total GDP will grow by no more than 5 per cent. These numbers nourish a feeling of unfairness from citizens from EU countries, as they feel Enlargement will only benefit the applicant countries at the expense of existing members. This however, is an all too simple picture of the process. If anything, Enlargement is quite unfair to the applicant countries which have had to carry out reforms in all walks of life in order to adopt a colossal 80, 000 pages of EU legislation. The rules and legislations that the EU have debated, voted and implemented in the space of more than 50 years, the applicant countries have to assimilate without dispute within a few years before they can be even considered for application. In addition, as most of these countries are former communist states, the transformation from heavily-centralised economies to the liberal pro-market system is not without pain. So yes, it is an expensive project but it is not all gain for the applicant states and all lose for the present members. There are many aspects of Enlargement which will benefit everyone in the long run.

Economic aspects

If enlargement goes ahead, assimilating 10 new members in 2004, it will create the biggest single market in the world with more than 500 million consumers. Although this in its self represents a fear for many people, a market of this size can be expected to give a boost to investment and job creation, raising levels of prosperity throughout Europe, in both new and old member countries. It is a chance to promote trade and economic activity as well as giving a fresh impetus to the growth and integration of the European economy as a whole. Obviously there is a slightly more advantageous economic gain for the acceding countries as they start from a lower economic base. But as the Centre for Economic Research demonstrated in a key study in 1997, accession of countries of Central and Eastern Europe would even in a conservative scenario bring an economic gain for the EU-15 of about 10 billion euros.

Institutional aspects

Enlargement can be welcomed for the breath of fresh air it will provide to the European Union. The prospect of assimilating such an important number of countries at once has forced the member states to consider reforming the institutions of the union, which certainly isnt amiss. The most important reforms undertaken so far stem from the Nice Treaty which paved the way for some important institutional changes to ensure that the enlarged EU can function. New weighting of votes of member states in the council and new allocation of seats in the European Parliament will streamline Europe's cumbersome and outdated institutions in preparation for new countries joining. More recently, the countries of the European Union have finally agreed on a reformed CAP so that the mainly-agricultural countries of the East can be integrated. The European authorities have thus learned to apportion the CAP subsidies a little more intelligently - something reformers have long argued for.

Ideological aspects

Apart from these practical economic and institutional gains, some wider and arguably more valuable benefits await the European Union. Im thinking in terms of the ideological idea of a peaceful and integrated Europe, united after decades of division and conflict. It should extend the EUs stability and prosperity to a wider group of countries and thus creating better chances for peace and prosperity in Europe as a whole. By geography alone Eastern and Central European states are totally eligible for entry into the union, so why should they be left out of a process that has been a beneficial experience to all the countries that joined so far? Obviously some EU issues are contested, both by EU representatives as by the wider European public, but we forget to look at the wider picture. The process of European Integration has set in motion the transition to democracy in many countries and has brought peace, stability and prosperity to each new member. In this sense, there are no costs to enlargement. In fact there would be enormous costs to non-enlargement. It would deprive the member states of economic benefits by weakening the incentive for economic reform and discouraging foreign investment, and thus create political instability in Europe. So as Chris Morris (BBC correspondent) rightly claims: hang on to your hats this is history in the making, and no-one ever pretended it would be easy.