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Olli Rehn

EU Commissioner for Enlargement

Five years of an Enlarged EU

Visit to Berlin
Berlin, 28 April 2009


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for the opportunity to celebrate and review the peaceful unification of our continent in the city where in many ways this historic process of unification began.

To be honest, I find it hard to believe already 20 years have gone since we saw the Berlin Wall come down. I can still see the images of citizens of the East and the West hammering down and chiselling away the artificial division of this city – but also of the country and of the continent. With their tools, together with the Velvet Revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe, the people of Berlin laid the basis for the changes that allow us to honour the 5th anniversary of the EU's Eastern enlargement, which we will celebrate in three days' time.

The symbolism of the story of Berlin, of course, does not stop on 9 November 1989. The transformation which this place has undergone – and at what pace – is a model of what happened across the whole of the united Europe. Like this city, countries and regions were previously isolated behind the Iron curtain. Today many of them are thriving in the heart of an enlarged European Union.

This conference provides us with an opportunity to draw up a fair and factual balance sheet of the impact of the latest round of enlargement. What can we say of the Eastern enlargement, five years after?

First of all, EU enlargement has served as an anchor of stability and democracy and as a driver of personal freedom and economic dynamism in Europe. It has advanced the rule of law and protection of human rights. It brought about peaceful democratic change and extended the area of freedom and prosperity to almost 500 million people.

Enlargement increased our weight in the world – be it in international trade or when addressing issues of global nature, such as climate change or development. It has substantially increased our crisis management capability, notably for peace-keeping missions.

Let us thus recall that the EU's enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe was certainly not just a moral obligation. It was as much a matter of our enlightened self-interest in terms of stability and security.

Institutionally, fears that a Union of 27 Members would face a deadlock of decision-making have prove unfounded. However, greater heterogeneity requires a greater effort to achieve common positions and policies.

That's why we need to continue such internal reforms that enable the EU to deliver the results its citizens expect. The Union’s ability to function efficiently must be further improved. We’ve done it before, and I am convinced we can do it again.

Secondly, there was always a solid economic case for EU enlargement. This has been vindicated since. Enlargement has brought economic benefits to people in both old and new member states.

To illustrate this with a concrete example: trade between the old and new member states grew almost threefold in less than 10 years (from €175 billion in 1999 to approximately €500 billion in 2007). And even more illustrative is the fivefold growth of trade among the new members (from less than €15 to €77 billion in the same period).

This is a key factor in explaining why, from 2004 until the outbreak of the current financial crisis, there was robust annual growth in employment in the new and old member states.

While it is clear that economic indicators everywhere are currently looking bleak and gloomy, the structural economic benefits already achieved will not simply dissolve. In fact, the solidarity and swift support which has been shown for certain troubled member state economies has illustrated very clearly the true value of EU membership – and of the Eurozone.

How about the labour market, then? With a few exceptions, there is no evidence that enlargement would have lead – or is likely to lead – to serious market disturbances in the old member states.

Labour migration from EU10 to EU 15 has been modest: the share of EU12 among the EU 15 working age population remains below one percent. The exceptions to this rule are Ireland, with around 5% of its current working age population from EU10, and the UK (1.2%).

Above all, the enlargement and free labour flows coincided with the creation of new jobs. Investments in the new member states increased opportunities, lowered the unemployment and improved living conditions, thus making it less likely for people to seek jobs abroad. Indeed, some people left, creating wage pressures in some sectors (dentists, plumbers). However, many are returning, bringing home new skills and entrepreneurial spirit. Remittances they send benefit families and increase quality of life in the new member states.

Beyond economic figures, the citizens in the new and not-so-new member states benefit directly in terms of personal quality of life: Here I am thinking, for instance, of much improved environmental standards and increased consumer protection.

Joining the European Union also presented citizens throughout the enlarged Union with further opportunities for networking within the knowledge economy, starting from the Erasmus student exchanges and stretching to pan-European research cooperation. At the same time, opening our borders and extending our physical networks in transport, energy and telecommunications equally widens the scope for exchange and economic activity.

At this point, I must stress the importance of the careful management of the EU accession process. As all recent and potential entrants to the EU are painfully aware, the preparations for enlargement require hard work and difficult decisions, in order to meet the Union's demanding standards in virtually all areas of public policy.

As to the track record, the new member states have mostly been rapid and effective in implementing reforms. Some have in fact achieved a better record of transposition of EU legislation than their EU15 counterparts. No one says that the accession of 12 states comprising 100 million new EU citizens was picture-perfect from the first second. It is true that there have been isolated cases of weakness in the rule of law and also certain inappropriate administrative capacities.

In the few isolated cases where they were not fully met, there have been tools to ensure post-accession monitoring. For instance, Bulgaria and Romania are subject to the Commission's Cooperation and Verification Mechanism. This is a tool to encourage judiciary reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime. These constituted important lessons learnt for today's work on enlargement.

The experience of the 2004/07 accession is indeed essential for our current agenda that covers of the Western Balkans and Turkey.

As in Central and Eastern Europe before, the European perspective of South East Europe has already proved to be a formidable transformational force. The region is part of Europe and it is strategically important for the European Union.

Given these parallels, the experience of the latest enlargement round continues to be relevant in steering today's enlargement policy. One of the most important lessons is that institutional and legal frameworks played an important role in ensuring the economic success. Our findings here are fairly intuitive and backed up by data: Countries with the best institutions reaped the greatest benefits.

This should serve as a reminder that strengthening the rule of law, increasing the efficiency of public administration and conducting a serious judicial reform remain challenges with important implications for further growth and integration in the EU.

Benefits of the enlargement process were often tangible before accession. Our discussion here therefore makes interesting listening for the current candidate and potential candidate countries, giving them a valuable input for their political and economic reform agenda.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If the positive experience of the 12 Central and Eastern new member states is anything to go by, then clearly the future potentially holds equally beneficial developments for the Western Balkans and Turkey.

So what's next?

Even the fastest scenario for the next accession of a new member state, likely to be Croatia, is clearly slower than the slowest envisaged scenario for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Time is on our side: we can pursue deepening and widening in parallel. This has been and still remains the best recipe to build a strong and united Europe.

Today Europe is truly whole and free.

Let us keep it that way.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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