The EU's Eastern Enlargement: State-Building or Empire-Building?
Summary of the East European Studies discussion with Arista Cirtautas, a Visiting Fellow at the Center of International Studies at Princeton University and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia, VA.
Past accession rounds are insufficient in understanding the process of Eastern enlargement that is occurring in the EU today. The large number of applicant countries alone makes today's process incomparable, as does the increasing complexity of the EU policy matrix and the greater socio-economic and cultural disparities that members and aspirant countries face. These large disparities have created a power asymmetry that benefits the West European member states at the expense of the East European aspirant countries. However, despite these unique challenges, Dr. Cirtautas remains hopeful that the new East European members of the EU will be able to contest efforts to relegate them to second class citizens of the union.
Dr. Cirtautas identified several parallels with the concept of "empires" to help explain some of the phenomena occurring in today's EU enlargement process. Three specific shared characteristics include: 1) indeterminate borders; 2) indirect, decentralized power structures; 3) transnational ruling elites. The EU is developing indeterminate borders through a creeping expansion of EU sovereignty, both by extending its borders and by eliminating all internal border controls between member states.
The second and third shared traits will prove problematic for the new member states of Eastern Europe. Though the EU has diffuse, multiple levels of government and relies heavily on local agents to execute and enforce policies, this structure evolved gradually over time. The East European countries, however, do not have established local authority structures and most local agents are not considered trustworthy. As a result, the EU feels it needs to control and monitor the new members as carefully as possible. One manner in which the EU intends to address this issue is by imposing a provisional training period of three years on new members. Through EU programs and initiatives, the Union is attempting to educate the next generation of East European bureaucrats. In doing so, however, it creates the potential for the development of transnational ruling elites who are competent, but disengaged from local issues and not representative of the societies which they serve. This leads to one of the central questions, "how significant is the disjuncture between the means and the ends?" Or, in other words, "can democratic ends be achieved through imperial means?"
Of particular concern to Dr. Cirtautas is the fate of the East European countries once they enter the EU. She argues that the power asymmetry created by the EU allows the states of Western Europe to preserve their own interests at the expense of the new members from Eastern Europe. By way of example, she cites the EU's demand to close Eastern borders before those countries become members and the seven year moratorium on labor mobility, which she argues is unsettling, not rational, and based on ethnic fears. However, recent successes provide Dr. Cirtautas with some hope that, once members of the EU, the states of Eastern Europe will be able to maneuver effectively within the organization and represent their own interests. All previous enlargements have been followed by revisions to address the imbalance after membership, and this round is unlikely to be the exception. Therefore, it is likely that the new members from Eastern Europe will attain a desirable level of negotiation and formal contestation at the formal level.