The Committee say that failure to firmly apply these criteria meant Romania and Bulgaria entering the EU before they were ready, which led to the unsatisfactory Cooperation and Verification Mechanism being introduced following their entry into the EU. The Committee point out that both countries still have work to do on judicial reform and corruption and it would have been better if these reforms had been implemented before they were made EU Member States.
The report considers the impact of EU enlargement on both economic growth and European security. The Committee say that while there is a clear economic benefit for nations joining the EU, the economic impact on existing Member States is less easy to identify. The Committee recognise concerns in EU countries about immigration from new Member States and say that the seven year transitional period before citizens of new Members gain full rights to free movement and access to labour markets is appropriate and provides adequate time for labour markets to adapt.
The Committee go on to point out that enlargement has expanded the single market area to 500 million consumers with a combined GDP of £11 trillion, bringing benefits to new and existing EU nations.
On security, the report is clear that EU enlargement has been vital in improving Europe’s security and will continue to be so in the future, particularly in the Western Balkans.
The Committee consider the decision to allow Cyprus to join the EU, while the dispute over the status of Northern Cyprus was ongoing. They say this was a ‘grave mistake’ as it imported a bilateral dispute with Turkey into the EU with serious consequences for Turkey’s own progress towards joining the Union. They say that in future any bilateral disputes should be resolved prior to accession. The Committee in particular reference ongoing disputes in the Western Balkans as an example. The report does stress, however, that progress toward accession should not be halted because of bilateral disputes, and only full accession should be held back until they are resolved.
The report recognises that the current economic crisis in Europe, combined with fears over immigration from new Member States, has dampened enthusiasm for EU enlargement. They say that EU institutions and national governments must do a better job in explaining to the public the benefits of a larger EU and single market.
Commenting, Lord Boswell, Chairman of the House of Lords European Union Committee, said:
“EU enlargement provides benefits for both existing and new Member States. However, with the current economic difficulties in Europe, it has become less of a priority.
“It is important the EU does not lose sight of the benefits enlargement can bring. The UK, for example, aims to export its way out of recession and a larger single market can only help that effort.
“It is also vital that the EU abides by its own rules when taking in new members. We believe the Copenhagen criteria set the bar at the right level and they must be properly applied to any future candidates for EU membership. Failure to do this in the case of Bulgaria and Romania led to a scramble to bring those countries up to speed after their accession. That cannot be allowed to happen again.”
To read the Committee's report, as well as transcripts of the inquiry's evidence sessions, please visit the Committee's webpage.