The fifth EU’s enlargement: “ever growing Union” and some expectations

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On 1 May 2004, the then Commission President R. Prodi pronounced the fifth and the largest in the EU’s history; since then, three more countries have joined the EU. Presently, the desire to join the EU is growing: the Western Balkans wanted to be a “part of the family” and negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova have been launched, while Georgia and other states “make no secret of their European dreams”, noted the Commission President. 

Twenty years ago, the “family of European states” grew bigger: in May 2004, the citizens of Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became the EU citizens. Since then, the EU has become a greater political, economic and cultural entity, stretching from Tallinn to Lisbon, from Valletta to Stockholm, from Dublin to Nicosia. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia’s accession a few years later has made the European Union even stronger.
The pace of change across the European Union over the past two decades has been remarkable: i.e. about 450 million Europeans have enjoyed freedom of movement across a larger Union, citizens have stronger rights and freedoms, democracy and the rule of law have been reinforced, despite being tested at times, and opportunities for both people and business have grown.

With the 2004 enlargement, the EU has become one of the world’s largest single markets. Presently, all 27 EU member states have witnessed growth and prosperity.
Thus, during last two decades the “continental-scaled” modern infrastructure and connections have been built across the 27 Member States, mainly thanks to EU investments and funds. European society has benefitted from more innovations, public and private investments; free movement of goods, services, capital and people, higher standards and greater opportunities in business have become a common endeavor.
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Some warring opinions…
Multi-country public opinion polling commissioned late last year in six EU member states – Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Poland and Romania – on the perspective enlargement by the European Council on Foreign Relations, ECFR has revealed that:
= There are concerns that further enlargement could pose economic and security risks to present EU states, especially in the case of countries from the Western Balkans: i.e. 45 percent of those surveyed by ECFR believe that Ukraine joining the EU would have a ‘negative impact’ on the security of the EU, against 25% who see it as having a ‘positive impact’. Besides, 39 percent also believe Ukraine’s accession would have a ‘negative impact’ on the security of their country – while only 24 percent expect a ‘positive impact’. The accession of countries of the Western Balkans carries comparatively less risk, according to respondents of the survey: the opinion is split at 33 and 23 percent, respectively, between those who see it as having a ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ impact on the security of the bloc.
= There are fears that enlargement could impact the EU’s political power in the world: Poland and Denmark are the most optimistic on this question, with a plurality of 43 and 35 percent of citizens, respectively, believing Ukraine’s accession would have a positive impact for the EU’s political power in the world – and just 21and 19 percent, respectively are expecting a negative impact. Meanwhile, a prevailing view in Austria (42%) and Germany (32%) is that Ukraine’s accession would have a negative impact on the EU’s political power in the world; and those in France and Romania are split in their opinion, with 24 and 31 percent, respectively, believing it would have a positive impact, and 28 percent in both states believe it would have negative impact.
= Divides exist on when the next round of enlargement should take place. ECFR’s data shows that citizens, on average, are divided into three equal parts on the timings of any expansion of the EU: between those who think enlargement should proceed today – 35 percent; those who don’t think the EU should enlarge at this moment – 37 percent, and those who are indifferent on this point or don’t know – 28 percent.
= There is also split between ‘old’ and ‘new’ EU member states on the broader subject of admitting new member states: i.e. respondents in Austria (53%), Germany (50%) and France (44%) are most likely to hold the view that the EU should not pursue any immediate enlargement. In Romania, a majority (51%), and in Poland, a plurality (48%), believe the EU should be looking to add new member states. Denmark is somewhat of an outlier among the ‘old’ member states, with just 37% opposing any immediate enlargement; however, this is still a prevailing view in the EU-27, generally.
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