One of the European Union's most spectacular successes has been its expansion, wrongly called its enlargement.
Reunifying the continent peacefully without causing any major imbalance, either political or economic, was a wager. From China to Latin America, from the US to Africa observers have witnessed this and are astounded by it. Europe is an envied model.
However here "the enlargement" has become a recurring matter of anxiety:
"Europe has changed, it needs borders, we cannot continue like this, the institutions are not working etc …"
Of course Turkey's candidature has pushed this successful policy to the absurd idea of trying to move beyond the continent. This clearly raises the issue of Europe's limits and a decision will have to be taken. The spread of the European model must be able to take on other forms other than membership.
But this should not overshadow the successes achieved during Europe's expansion:
- Progress made by the State of Law, Democracy and Human Rights. The reunification of Europe has been achieved to the benefit of people and against the logic of blocks and power. Hundreds of millions of human beings are grateful for this.
- The extension of the European market which has become the biggest in the world with 456 million inhabitants. The leading consumer market with the highest living standards.
- The strengthening of Europe and its influence in the world. Its rules are spreading everywhere ranging from the abolition of the death penalty to economic norms. Its influence is increasing as the peaceful resolution of conflict and international society in search of acceptable codes of conduct for everyone find a model in a number of areas. Its laws are asserting themselves and its practices are being copied.
- The eruption of Europe in the world arena. The Union is now a player everywhere and the first provider of development aid, participating in humanitarian activities and the re-establishment of peace where it is necessary. The European Union is a world player without it having to deploy an arsenal of tanks and guns. We might dare to say that over 1.5 billion citizens in the world live under our influence or accept us as a model (on the European, African, Latin American and Central Asian continents). This is precisely because Europe's influence is not military and does not embody power by force but the force of law.
If this rapid expansion raises justified questions on paper: how far, with whom, why, how? We must not simply throw everything out of the window.
- The institutional question is not due to enlargement. There is no example showing that new members ever prevented the Union from deciding.
- It is rather the older Member States who encounter problems in adapting to the new world since they have grown accustomed to living in a cocoon.
- We have been lacking imagination and courage by not speeding up integration when it was easy, notably in areas such as security in the wide sense of the term, border control and common defence.
- We have lacked in terms of response whilst the world has been opening up and we are now observing that this opening requires a little effort on our part. We have not seen that we have major advantages on our side and have undervalued our abilities.
- We must not oppose development against enlargement. The expansion of Europe already comprises an in-depth development of the European project in itself.
In reality after more than 55 years of success marked by expansion Europe has to overcome these new stages in its development. It must not be embarrassed about what has been done or about what it is, on the contrary …
But it must meet the new challenges it is facing just as it does the new players in our global village. With 27 members it will be easier to do this. This is a certainty. So there is no reason to give in to this "wave of fatigue" by continuously stigmatising the expansion of Europe as an obvious threat. This rather easy criticism often used domestically affects States that are made up of the men and women who are watching our every move and increasingly they see us as strange creatures, or worse, as spoilt children.