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EU: Crisis Casts Long Shadow Over Further Enlargement

After the constitution "no" votes, the EU is at a low ebb The European Union's spectacular failures over the last few months look set to complicate the process of further eastwards expansion of the union. The inability of the EU summit in Brussels to agree on a long-term budget, plus the rejection of the new union constitution by French and Dutch voters, has brought the EU to its lowest point in years. It's safe to say nobody quite knows what's going to happen with the expansion plans, and whether Turkey, Croatia, Ukraine, and other applicants will be admitted at all.

Prague, 20 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Countries wishing to join the European Union are facing a long period of uncertainty because of the crisis which has developed inside the union itself.

EU politicians see the rejection of the new constitution by French and Dutch voters as partly an expression of concern about the impact of expansion on their jobs, identity, and environment. Ten new members were admitted last year in the biggest enlargement ever, and people in the older member states have not yet fully adjusted to that.

A senior analyst at the French Institute for International Relations, Philippe Moreau de Farge, says he believes that Romania and Bulgaria will be admitted on schedule in 2007, as they have already signed accession treaties. But he says Turkey, Ukraine, Croatia and the rest cannot expect quick action:

"For the others, it will be a time of waiting. Now a very difficult debate will take place about many issues inside the European Union," Moreau de Farge said.

Another senior analyst, Peter Zervakis of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany, says he expects expansion to continue, but possibly under different terms.

"The classical type of enlargement -- the full political integration of new countries in east and southeast [of Europe] into the EU -- has probably passed its peak. And there will be new strategies to let neighbor countries participate fully in the economic success of the internal market, but not to let them integrate politically, because the feeling of solidarity in the EU of 25 members is already pretty weak," Zervakis says.

In other words, full membership may not be available for future applicants. "There are strategic reasons, and reasons connected with modernization, why Turkey needs in one way or another to be connected with Europe, needs to be bound to it," Zervakis says. "But the question is, does this necessarily mean a full political integration? Or -- according to the latest thinking -- will it be a kind of privileged partnership for Turkey [and also] for Ukraine, or for the Balkan states?"

In Paris, Moreau de Farge says that many East European countries consider that, by becoming democracies, they have an automatic right to join the European Union. But he says inside the EU, many people and member states no longer accept that way of reasoning.

"If these countries are going to be democratized, it is for their own good. And if they can join the EU after democratization, well, that is good. But they will not get an automatic right to join the EU just because they become democratized," Moreau de Farge says.

The picture is further clouded by the failure last week of the EU summit to set out a long-term budget, which makes the EU disinclined to rush to further expansion.

And there are other specific difficulties. One is that France has recently enacted a law that further expansion must be approved by a popular referendum. And, as Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy puts it, "public opinion is overall against enlargement."

Another roadblock is that, from next year, the party most likely to lead a new German government, the Christian Democrats, are opposed to full Turkish EU membership.

The Turks have repeatedly said they do not want any special status which falls below full membership. Ukraine and Croatia and others are likely to feel the same way.

In Ankara, the director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Bilkent University, Seyfi Tashan, says Turks cannot understand why their candidacy for EU membership has become so controversial.

Tashan says membership, in any case, is a decade or more away, and the important thing is to stay engaged through this difficult period.

"If we can continue with the [accession] process, the adverse conditions that now prevail in Europe might change. That's why we are hopeful, that -- because of the economic interests of the European Union, and because of its security interests, and energy interests -- Europe will not disdain Turkey and infuriate Turkey by rejecting Ankara's membership right now," Tashan says.

Rejection right now is not on the cards. Formal EU accession talks are expected to begin with Turkey in October, as scheduled. But what will happen by the time the talks conclude, probably years from now, seems an open question.