Open the Doors; the European Union Will Soon Admit Bulgaria and Romania. Will That Be the End of Enlargement? Not at All. Hello, Albania!

By Moravcsik, Andrew | Newsweek International, October 2, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Open the Doors; the European Union Will Soon Admit Bulgaria and Romania. Will That Be the End of Enlargement? Not at All. Hello, Albania!


Moravcsik, Andrew, Newsweek International


Byline: Andrew Moravcsik (Moravcsik directs the European Union Program at Princeton University.)

Riots in Hungary? Rising anti-Europe sentiment across Eastern Europe? A resounding "no" to a new constitution in France and the Netherlands, and similar sentiment elsewhere? Never mind. Time for the next round.

This week the European Union will decide when and under what conditions to admit Romania and Bulgaria into that most exclusive club. Governments are almost certain to go along. The odds are that, come New Year's 2007, Europe will thus be that much bigger.

Welcome to the neighborhood? Not quite. Pundits and publics remain deeply skeptical. Critics insist neither country is ready for admission. In these increasingly anti-foreigner times, some hint that they do not really belong--that they're more Balkan than European. Almost everyone is certain about one thing: Europe is tired of adding new members. Enlargement is opposed by nearly two thirds of Germans and French, and almost half of Swedes, Italians and Brits. Last year's ill-fated French and Dutch referendums had little to do with the content of the European constitution, but a lot to do with growing popular resistance to the hoary notion of an ever-larger union.

Experts call it "enlargement fatigue." After bringing in 10 mostly East European newcomers two years ago, the conventional wisdom today is easily summed up: the entry of Romania and Bulgaria will represent the high-water mark of a process begun half a century ago--the progressive enlargement of "Europe." The Union now encompasses more than 460 million people stretching from the Mediterranean to the Arctic, and has a GDP larger than the United States'. Enough is enough, most Europeans say. Time to close the doors.

That's the CW--but it's wrong. Far from marking the culmination of the European experiment, the latest round of enlargement is merely a curtain raiser for even more-ambitious efforts to come. Mindful of public anxiety over everything from illegal immigration to organized crime, Europe's political leaders aren't trumpeting this fact--but it's true. After Romania and Bulgaria comes Croatia. Then Macedonia, followed by Serbia, Montenegro and down through Albania. Even the tiny soon-to-be new nation of Kosovo is a potential candidate. And let's not forget that just last year, European leaders voted unanimously to open talks with Turkey. The end is not in sight.

True, the process will not be easy. Look at the challenges of integration that await in the shape of Romania and Bulgaria. They will be the poorest members of the EU, with a per capita GDP at less than a third the EU average, hardly higher than Turkey's and below levels enjoyed under communism. University of Leuven economist Ides Nicaise foresees a future of dependency: "Bulgaria will lag behind, asking for the EU's help and support, for a long time." The two countries are, some charge, in no position to implement EU rules. The European Commission says they've passed the proper regulations, governing everything from environmental codes to food sanitation. But many suspect, as does Gergana Noutcheva of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, that Romania and Bulgaria are "EU-compliant on paper only. No one knows if they are really enforcing [the rules]."

Corruption and criminality are rampant in both countries. Transparency International's corruption index ranks Bulgaria on par with Colombia. Romania lags behind such notorious locales as China, Egypt and Mexico. Networks of organized criminals trafficking in drugs, women and illicit goods riddle Bulgaria. More than 100 people have been gunned down in mafia or political killings in the past decade, in some cases in broad daylight in central Sofia. No one is sure that the legal system is strong enough to enforce the law, let alone jail crime kingpins the government is currently unable or unwilling to prosecute.

Politics in the region is increasingly unruly.

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