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Where does Brexit leave EU enlargement?

July 25, 2016 10:00 AM
By Thomas Cole
Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole "Where does Brexit leave EU enlargement?"

Whilst the UK population took the decision on 23 June to vote to leave the EU, there are still countries which are looking to join the bloc. The UK had been a champion of EU enlargement, looking to extend the single market and also to widen the EU's membership. In spite of the UK referendum decision, EU enlargement will continue for the time being, although 'enlargement fatigue' within the EU will need to contended with, where the rise of populist parties has made enlargement, and subsequent immigration from newer to older member states, a less popular policy for EU governments to pursue.

It can be expected that enlargement negotiations become more drawn out and there is no appetite amongst any of the EU member states for admitting any new members in the near future. The enlargement policy may therefore not be in the forefront of the EU political landscape as it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s but the 28 member club still remains an attractive option, where the EU is currently negotiating with Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro. Additionally, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania both have the status of "candidate country" meaning that negotiations could commence should the EU-28 acquiesce hereto. Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina have the status of "potential candidate", the fore-runner to candidate status and Iceland, which had been seeking membership, put its application on hold in May 2013.

Of the three countries actively negotiating for EU membership, none is likely to join any time soon. In the case of Montenegro, 24 of the 35 negotiating chapters have been opened, with 2 provisionally closed. As regards Serbia, negotiations are less advanced, with 4 chapters having been opened thus far and no chapters having been closed yet. Regardless as to how many chapters are open and closed, the EU works on the principle of "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", meaning that talks will continue for some time with both countries. Of the two, Montenegro is likely to join sooner, only because it does not face the territorial integrity question which faces Serbia over Kosovo, where 23 of the EU's 28 member states recognise Kosovo's independence.

As regards Turkey, the EU's relations are more complicated and following the recent events surrounding the failed coup and its aftermath, will have been complicated further. 16 chapters have been opened and only 1 provisionally closed, where the EU had agreed with Turkey to resume negotiations as part of the visa-liberalisation/migration/accession deal in March. The events over the weekend and response by Turkish President Erdoğan have caused concern in EU capitals, especially over calls to re-instate the death penalty. EU Foreign Ministers, meeting in Brussels on 18 July underlined in the form of Council conclusions that no EU member state can apply the death penalty. If Turkey were to reinstate the death penalty, it would no longer fulfil one of the fundamental criteria required for accession.

Currently, the country which has the best chances for membership is the country which put its application on hold in May 2013 - Iceland. This should say something about far advanced the other countries currently negotiating membership have come on their respective EU paths.

Despite one EU member state looking to leave, others are still at the door looking to get in. The enlargement policy will continue to play its role so long as there are countries looking to join the bloc and in the case of Montenegro and Serbia the accession negotiations can be expected to continue.