We must build the united Europe not only in the interest of the free nations, but also in order to admit the peoples of Eastern Europe into this community if, freed from the constraints under which they live, they want to join and seek our moral support. We owe them the example of a unified, fraternal Europe. Every step we take along this road will mean a new opportunity for them. They need our help with the transformation they have to achieve. It is our duty to be prepared.
(Robert Schuman) 1
These visionary words were not expressed at a time when the communist system was disintegrating in Eastern Europe and the socialist countries of East-Central Europe (ECE) were starting to consider a future on the ‘other side’ of the Iron Curtain. They were uttered in 1963 by one of the founding fathers of the European Community when the prospect of European reunification was decades away. As such, they point to the strategic vision of European integration that has existed from the very beginning of the European project.
The issue of whether the European Union (EU) has had an enlargement strategy since the end of the East-West conflict is important to answer not only in terms of intellectual curiosity but also for its continuing political relevance. Even though the enlargement process to ECE has reached an important juncture, with eight countries of the region to join the EU in 2004, this is not the end of the process. There are many other states that wish to join the Union. Two of them, Bulgaria and Romania, are pursuing accession negotiations; Croatia applied for EU membership in February 2003; and a large number of countries both in South-Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union also contemplate their future as being in the Union. So long as the EU continues to exist in the foreseeable future, and the aspiration of these states does not change, one can conceive of a major historical process that may result in the unification of Europe. This is a process of unprecedented importance and of historical proportions.
The issue has already generated a certain debate. Some scholars deny the existence of an enlargement strategy, mainly on the grounds that there