Criteria for EU membership, also known as the Copenhagen criteria, state that any European country complying with the EU political, social and economic standards and norms (such as human rights, functioning market economy or rule of law) can join the European Union. Upon joining, a member joins the common market and political institutions. Currently, EU treaties state that only European countries may join the Union.
Even though this policy is quite unlikely to happen, there are quite a few lines of reasoning why this change of EU long-term strategy is a good idea.
In the current situation, the European Union faces a lot of opposition concerning deeper political integration. A lot of this Euroscepticism originates in the fear over the loss of national sovereignty. Reorientation of the EU from deeper political integration toward rather expanding its market could be a strategy that maintains, even expands, the influence of the EU while maintaining national sovereignty.
This would potentially lead to a lot of associated benefits. Expansion of the common market would lead to tariff-free trade and higher comparative advantage. That would increase the economic growth of a lot of involved countries. Similarly, EU represents certain health, social and environmental standards. Expansion of the EU would both directly and indirectly lead to outspread of its values. It the direct sense it means that the new members in order to gain the potential economic benefits would have to adapt themselves to the already set up standards. The indirect outspread of values would take place through the increase of economic power of the EU as a whole. Competing markets would have to adjust their standards and regulations in order to be able to trade with the EU.
Moreover, the membership in the EU would also substantially increase the happiness of the citizens of the member states. They would as a result gain greater educational and job opportunities. This increase in human potential affects both current members and potential future members.
This strategy would also presumably ensure the maintenance of the western values in international politics. If a sufficient amount of countries joined, it would mean that the EU would emerge as the strongest world power. In the current times of political instability caused by president Trump and his loose attitude towards Western liberal values and the environment, this could ensure future stability and the pursuit of these values.
Of course, this is only one side of looking at the problem. The EU already faces a lot of opposition concerning its hegemonic behavior. An attempt to expand its borders would only strengthen the current fears. History has set up a precedence to fear countries which become too big, because it resembles past imperialism and attempts to dominate others. Increase in size means that representativeness in the decision-making process of a political entity gradually deteriorates and people become more distanced from political affairs. This trend can already be observed on the low voter turnout in EU parliamentary elections compared to national elections.
A lot of Euroscepticism is also present due to the mobility of people within the member states. Richer countries are the target of economic migrants from poorer countries. EU also funds poorer countries more than richer ones from its budget. Both of these occurrences lead to increasing social tensions among the citizens of member states. Certain groups such as Polish people in London are blamed for stealing jobs and richer nations end up paying more into the EU budget than how much is returned to them. This means that the EU should concentrate on improving its internal integration rather than adding more gas to the flames.
A policy expanding the influence of the EU would also lead to international tensions among the superpowers. Many claimed that Crimea was partially caused as a reaction to increasing EU influence. If such a radical policy was taken by the EU, it is almost certain that Russia would politically react and try to maintain the balance of power. However, regarding the current state of politics, it is quite probable that China and the U.S. would similarly alienate from the EU since it would become their competitor.
Moreover, many of the current tensions are directly or indirectly caused by globalization and cultural clash. EU member states have arguably a fairly similar culture. However, some new non-European members would most probably not conform to this EU identity and therefore would result in more cultural tensions. If a new member state was economically poorer, it could be blamed by the general public for economic malfunctioning and decreasing employment opportunities in other nations due to outsourcing.
A policy like this is, of course, too complex to discuss entirely in a short article and even though it is most likely not going to happen, the future of the EU is uncertain. The next few years will determine whether the EU is going to aim for deeper integration, or if national opposition prevents it. Or maybe something else…We shall see. Please share your opinion in the comments below.
Written by Becky Mikova