Contributing to the “Journal of Common Market Studies’ Annual Review of the European Union 2013”, MAXCAP-advisory board member Heather Grabbe draws six lessons for EU enlargement ten years on and explores on the new role of the EU facing overt rivalry for influence in southeastern Europe.
For a quarter-century the EU had been almost unchallenged in promoting regional integration and, thus, unfolded a significant impact on domestic policies, institutions and expectations of the societies that developed from communism after 1989. Based on the construction of identities and social norms combined with material incentives the EU established strong influence. Lessons have, however, been learned since the 2004 enlargement: (1) EU influence dwindles on politically hot topics once the accession date is guaranteed, but overall compliance on laws and policies is long-lasting, (2) democratic transition is not a one-way-street and does not guarantee good governance, and, (3) transformation of the economy and the state depends on a self-sustaining dynamic between domestic reforms, the accession process and economic prospects. Further it has been widely acknowledged that (4) the transformative power depends on consistency and credibility and that (5) a country should only be allowed in after conflicts over its status are resolved. Finally, (6) enlargement cannot be treated as an elite-led foreign policy. Recently the EU’s transformative power has been challenged by two parallel developments adding to these six lessons: On the one hand, the limits of EU influence on political culture become more and more evident. On the other hand, Russia’s new role, its rivalry for influence, casts the endeavor of further EU enlargement in a different light. Hence, the EU is confronted with the strategic choice to either preserve the current Union or respond to the new external challenge and counter Russian influence.