There are many good reasons for criticising the European Union. But, the fact that many countries have joined the club in recent decades shows that the EU is a success story. It is obviously very attractive to be part of the EU.
This is how it came about:
🇧🇪 🇫🇷 🇩🇪 🇮🇹 🇱🇺 🇳🇱 In 1957 the organisation, now known as the European Union, was founded. It originally had six members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
🇩🇰 🇮🇪 🇬🇧 In 1971, at its first enlargement, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the European Union and the number of member states rose to nine.
🇬🇷 Since its military regime was overthrown and democracy was restored in 1974, Greece became an EU member in 1981.
🇪🇸 🇵🇹 In 1986 Spain and Portugal became members.
🇦🇹 🇫🇮 🇸🇪 In 1995, number thirteen (Austria), fourteen (Finland) and fifteen (Sweden) joined the European Union.
🇨🇿 🇪🇪 🇨🇾 🇱🇻 🇱🇹 🇭🇺 🇲🇹 🇵🇱 🇸🇰 🇸🇮 After the fall of the Iron Curtain, more countries pushed their way into the EU. In 2004 with the largest enlargement so far, ten new countries joined the EU: Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
🇧🇬 🇷🇴 In 2007, with Bulgaria and Romania, the number of member states grew to 27 countries.
🇭🇷 With Croatia, the second country from ex-Yugoslavia joined the EU in 2013.
🇬🇧 As of the 1st of February 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union.
More countries want to join.
🇹🇷 🇲🇰 🇲🇪 🇦🇱 🇷🇸 Turkey (since 1999), Republic of North Macedonia (2005), Montenegro (2008), Albania (2009) and Serbia (2009) are candidate countries. “Candidate country” means that accession negotiations are held between each country and the EU.
🇧🇦 🇽🇰 Bosnia and Herzegovina (since 2005) and Kosovo (2008) have just reached the status of a potential candidate, which means that these countries have the prospect of joining the EU but have not yet been granted candidate country status.
🇺🇦 🇲🇩 🇬🇪 After Russia has started the war, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have also expressed their desire to join the EU.
So, quite a lot of European countries are either already part of the EU or want to become part of it.
But that’s also a problem. The more countries join, the more difficult the decision-making becomes.
This applies at least in all those areas where the principle of unanimity prevails. All EU member states have to agree on a number of policy areas that the member states consider sensitive. That is taxation, social security or social protection, the accession of new EU member states; common foreign and security policy, including defence policy and operational police cooperation between member states.
Countries like Hungary and Poland are currently showing that they use the principle of unanimity for their purposes. A decision on one field will only be approved if concessions are made on another. Some call it skillful negotiation; others call it blackmail.
One thing is certain: the larger the EU, the less it is possible to organise a union of states according to the principle of unanimity.
There are two ways to solve the problem.
One possibility is that the EU will stop growing. The other is to switch from the unanimity principle to the majority principle.
France, which currently holds the EU Council Presidency, is pursuing both paths. In a speech on “Europe Day,” the 9th of May, to the European Parliament, France’s president Emmanuel Macron made a, if still vague, proposal for a new kind of arrangement.
Macron said: “The war in Ukraine and the legitimate aspiration of its people, just like that of Moldova and Georgia, to join the European Union encourages us to rethink our geography and the organisation of our continent.”
Macron offered a vision of a new “European Political Community” with an outer circle of European states, including Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Britain. This circle would be linked to the European Union but not be part of it.
The advantage of such a connection: the states interested in membership would quickly be bound to the EU, plus the EU would gain time to reform itself.
In essence, this reform would mean a departure from the principle of unanimity. And this would be accompanied by a shift of power from the individual states to the European Union.
So far, every state can be sure that no decisions will be made against its interests. That would no longer be the case with majority voting. It could be voted against the interests of minorities. Some call this loss of sovereignty. Others call it democracy.
In addition, the place of decision-making would also shift. Because the right place for majority decisions is the European Parliament.
Here is why:
If unanimity is needed, it is necessary to find consensus at the governmental level. The Council of the European Union (where the ministers from the member states meet) and the European Council (where the heads of state or government meet) are appropriate for consensus building. Unanimity cannot be achieved in a parliament. But if decisions are to be made by majority, parliament is the place to be. There, majorities are organised across state borders. There, discussion, debate and public debate take place.
That means a reform of the EU, which would make enlargement possible, would weaken the national governments twice over. They would lose their right of veto. And they would have to share more of their power with the European Parliament.
The fact that the national governments decide on such a reform and that unanimity is needed for such a reform makes change so difficult.
However, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has significantly increased the pressure. There is an unquestionable need to give Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia a perspective. The same goes for the candidate countries North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia.
“Dear Volodymyr, my message today is clear,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, on the 8th of April, in Kyiv, “Ukraine belongs in the European family.” And she added, “This is where your path toward the European Union begins.”
Every EU member state has to move if this path is to reach its goal.
The opinions expressed by the author of this post do not necessarily represent the opinions and policies of ELfR.