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Enlargement and European security after 11 September

01 September 2001

What consequences may the terrorist acts of 11 September have for EU enlargement? Will they facilitate it or make it more complicated? And what is likely to be their overall impact on pan-European security? At this stage, of course, any assessment is highly tentative: the way in which Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ will be conducted will largely shape most of the ensuing actions and reactions. However, a few general considerations may already be made: On the one hand, the need and the will to show unity and resolve on the European side may lead to a stronger emphasis on the political rather than the functional criteria for accession. In other words, the Copenhagen European Council of December 2002 could decide to ease the way in for those countries that fully qualify politically but still have thorny technical chapters (e.g. agriculture) to close in order to draw up a well-defined prospect for 2004-05. That may end up favouring a country like Poland, if its negotiators will reiterate their commitment to join the Union: the results of the recent parliamentary elections, too, may indirectly help forge a viable compromise on the thorniest issues in order to prevent the further emergence and strengthening of anti-European political groupings; On the other hand, the fight against international terrorism may lead to a substantial upgrading of some functional requirements for membership, impinging upon the eventual acquis to be incorporated by the candidates. That applies to both Schengen and the JHA space as shaped by the inter-pillar Plan of Action adopted by the European Council on 21 September. It may also apply to such first pillar policies as banking laws, thus worsening the accession prospects of Malta and Cyprus (with all the possible implications of that). In general terms, a more intense European engagement in the Balkans (also as a side-effect of a more intense American engagement elsewhere) and the need to devote more resources to police-related activities and perhaps humanitarian aid - in the wake of the forthcoming operations against sanctuaries in the Middle East - may determine a shift in EU budgetary priorities, especially (but not exclusively) for CFSP and Relex. That may not help the cause of the candidates either, although it may contribute to stressing the urgent need for stabilising all the countries East of the current EU border, i.e. what still is the Union’s ‘periphery’. In other words, a new balance may have to be found – regarding political as well as budgetary priorities – between protection and projection. More specifically, EU enlargement may overlap with NATO expansion: after all, the two agendas are similar - the Prague summit is scheduled only a few weeks before the Copenhagen European Council - and so are most of the candidates. It seems more plausible now that NATO, too, puts stronger emphasis on political considerations in earmarking its future members. In this respect, closer cooperation between the US and Russia in the fight against international terrorism may make the ‘Big Bang’ scenario – and especially the expansion of the Alliance to the Baltic States – more or less likely according to the overall dynamics of that cooperation. In theory, in fact, the need to preserve good relations with Moscow may lead to a more cautious approach to NATO enlargement. Yet precisely the decreasing relevance of the Alliance in strictly military-strategic terms and the political rapprochement with Moscow may also facilitate the ‘Big Bang’. NATO may either go for a ‘small’ enlargement (to Slovenia and Slovakia only, for instance, i.e. one that does not hurt too much Russian sensitivities), or put the whole issue in a completely new perspective, i.e. one that may eventually include Russia itself. The issue has not been addressed directly so far, but it may emerge again - also for instrumental reasons – over the next months. In either case, some consultation and possibly coordination between NATO and the EU in the early months of 2002 may prove useful. As for Turkey, it seems too early to predict what medium/long-term effect the present international crisis will have on its strategic position and domestic orientation. At all events, given a) its candidacy to join the EU, b) its role in Cyprus (including that country’s EU bid), c) its present position on the issue of EU-NATO military cooperation, it would not be inappropriate for the Union to try and make use of its multiple policy tools and take a comprehensive political initiative towards Ankara - an initiative, that is, capable of covering all those aspects and of preventing a major crisis in bilateral relations. Last but not least, it may be worth evaluating also what the candidate countries themselves think of the possible consequences of the terrorist acts on their own membership prospects and how, in turn, our publics’ attitude could change. In particular, it would be interesting to assess how acceptable the likely changes in EU policies (and NATO tasks?) generated by the 11 September events are for their governments and public opinions. In fact, further deepening of the EU acquis on JHA may make their eventual compliance more difficult and put their administrative systems under considerable strain, also in budgetary terms. In addition, the NATO they are striving to join (or have joined lately) might become quite a different organisation from the one their publics had in mind in the first place. As far as our publics are concerned, the increased focus on fighting global terrorism and international crime may well divert financial resources and political emphasis from enlargement. Moreover, it is not inconceivable that EU public opinions become even more wary of integrating countries that, regardless of their economic performance or level of development, do not offer sufficient guarantees of being helpful in that fight. By contrast, the need to stabilise and "securitise" those neighbouring candidates that do offer reasonable guarantees may be felt as all the more urgent. To sum up, it is arguable that the enlargement of the EU will proceed as planned and will probably end up incorporating the whole of Central Europe (including the Baltics) in a few years’ time. However, each for different reasons, such countries as Bulgaria, Romania, Malta, Cyprus and Turkey will probably have to face bigger hurdles. By contrast, the expansion of NATO may come either to a temporary slowdown or to a quick acceleration while undergoing a fundamental redefinition. In either case, the interaction between the two processes will have important implications for European security. One could be the creation of a geopolitical cleavage between a basically integrated Central Europe (encompassing a temporarily non-allied Nordic-Baltic ‘Rim’) and a less stable South-Central/South-Eastern region. For the latter, new ad hoc stabilisation policies will have to be devised, combining a comprehensive regional approach and more targeted, specially tailored country programs, well beyond the existing Stability Pact or pre-accession strategies. In the light of the current developments, it seems evident that the responsibility for that will fall almost entirely upon the EU – politically, financially, and also militarily.