Membership for the Balkans Brussels Paves Way for Next EU Expansion

The next European Union expansion could be right around the corner. At a Brussels summit this week, leaders may establish a timeline for a number of new members, many of them in the Balkans. Some would like to see the troubled region in the EU by 2014.
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski celebrating with Skopje residents after the EU removed the visa requirement for Macedonians travelling to Europe.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski celebrating with Skopje residents after the EU removed the visa requirement for Macedonians travelling to Europe.

Foto: ROBERT ATANASOVSKI/ AFP

Undeterred by growing voter resistance to a European Union whose borders are pushing ever eastward and soon possibly even further into the North Atlantic, the European Commission in Brussels and individual EU member states are currently working on plans for a further accession round.

According to the current plan, at least five new member states could join the EU by 2014. Accession negotiations with Croatia may be completed as early as next year. Should that happen, the Balkan nation could become an EU member in 2011. Iceland, crisis-riddled and deeply indebted as it is, wouldn't be much further behind.

On Thursday and Friday, EU heads of state and goverment will be in Brussels for their December summit. During the meeting, they are expected to set a date for the start of formal membership negotiations with Macedonia. The Greek government in Athens is still trying to block negotiations over a name dispute  with Macedonia, which is also the name of a region in Greece. But it is unlikely Athens will be able to secure much more than a modest delay in opening talks with its neighbor.

Even Faster

Efforts to reach a deal on an "interim treaty" with Serbia are also on the summit agenda, and official accession talks are expected to commence soon thereafter. Neighboring Montenegro is also expected to join the lineup for accession negotiations soon.

Some EU leaders would like to see expansion come even faster. Athens' new socialist prime minister, Georgios Papandreou, and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi, would like to see the accession of the entire Western Balkens  by 2014, including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania. That would be the only way to prevent further ethnic tensions in the region, they argue. But for many EU member states, expansion would be expensive. Net payers -- the countries that pay more into EU coffers than they receive back, including Germany -- would be required to significantly increase the amount they pay to Brussels each year.

The move would also further delay the aspirations of Turkey, which has been a candidate for many years, to become part of the EU. But Ankara already seems resigned to that fact. In a recent interview  with the US weekly Newsweek, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu mentioned what he thought was the realistic date for Turkish accession to the EU: 2023.

spiegel/dsl
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