Eastern Enlargement of the Eu as a Subject of Policy Research: Introduction to the Symposium

Article excerpt

Many European countries nowadays see the enlargement of the European Union in an eastern direction as one of the most important items on their political agendas and as a great challenge. It is an extensive political task that must be met by the political institutions of the European Union, the political representatives of its present membership, and primarily by the countries striving to become new members of the European Union. A whole series of political changes - including the tensions and problems that result from them - have appeared during the accession process itself. It is obvious that the candidate countries of Central and Eastern Europe must pursue a policy of adaptation and preparation for accession to the EU (in the cases of Cyprus and Malta, it is pursued to a lesser extent); nevertheless, the European Union itself, which has never awaited such a sizable enlargement before, must pursue this policy as well. Therefore, the EU has to modify not only the tools usually used for the accession of new members, but also the character of its institutions. Even when the search for a compromise that will result in necessary institutional reforms in the EU is in many cases difficult (as the summit in Nice made clear), the character and range of changes the EU will have to make can hardly be compared to the much more extensive and thorough reforms which must be undertaken in the countries seeking to join the European Union.

Should we interpret the policy of adaptation as a body of formal measures, as a series of rules, legal regulations, and laws that the candidate countries gradually pass in accordance with the requests of the European Union, we would commit a gross misunderstanding. While the implementation of European law in the accession countries is undoubtedly one of the most visible signs of the adaptation process, it is necessary to emphasize that the policy of adaptation is a much more comprehensive process, which asks for the connection of general requests and conditions stipulated by the European Union with various particular economic and social interests and conflicts influencing political decision-making in the respective candidate countries. As the results of these interactions are, in special cases, hard to predict, this situation - among others - contributes to hesitant or even negative reactions toward the process of more countries joining the EU, not only on the part of the European Union's present members, but also in some candidate countries. Furthermore, these reactions emerge to such a degree that in the mid-1990s they would have been considered a surprise. Once the accession to the EU ceased to be a distant political target of the post-communist countries, and grew to be regarded as a common political task necessitating hundreds of particular reform measures, the idea of joining the EU lost its self-evident symbolic significance as a final hurdle in overcoming the communist past and as a "return to Europe", even when this symbolic significance had bred major unconditional support for the efforts of the political representatives to bring the candidate countries into the EU. The decrease of the symbolic function of the accession to the EU and the transformation of the process into dozens of minor political decisions and practically realized measures have meant a wider differentiation in the civic views within particular nation states; political representatives of the candidate countries have thus found themselves not only bound to make decisions motivated by the requests of the institutions in Brussels, but also forced to convince the citizens of their own countries that the particular reforms are reasonable, defensible, and useful.

Political science research must also take into account the real political shift of the problems of the Eastern enlargement of the EU from the level of a symbolic political proclamation toward the particular political decisions, their application and implementation. …


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