Dimitris Rapidis

Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Carl Bildt, as well as other diplomats, have expressed their concern over the decision of the new President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker to abolish the position of EU Commissioner for Enlargement. In this respect, what are the possible motives for Junker to take such a decision and what is the message left to the candidate member-states?

It is certainly true that the EU has deep economic and institutional problems that have been abruptly surfaced since 2010 and the establishment of the rescue mechanisms for the overdebted member-states. It is also true that the European Parliament Elections 2014 showed a further decline of the electorate towards developments and policy-making in the EU, prescribing a deep-rooted lack of interest over EU politics despite the unprecedented mobilization and awareness campaigns by the candidates for the Presidency of the Commission. The crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent management of turmoil with Russia also showed that the EU needs consistency and plan when it comes to deal with geopolitics and internal decision-making. Furthermore, the EU has decided to give emphasis on the enhancement of bilateral trade relations with the United States in an effort to boost productivity and economic growth with its major overseas partner (and ally).

Under these developments, the enlargement process could lost significance – at least during the 2009-14 mandate of the European Commission. From this prism, and taking into consideration the new portfolio of migration, it is clear that the decision of Junker was stemming from a mere calculation of the priorities of the Commission towards more cohesion in all related fields. In this respect, and in correlation with the decision of NATO to broaden its military capacity and security in the Baltic States, it goes without saying that Junker is focusing on two major areas: a. recapitalizing the merits of Eurozone and further assisting on efficient economic governance in the EU; b. preparing for low-scale “warfare” with Russia over Ukraine, and high-scale mobilization against the Islamic State, especially after the reports over the connections of ISIS in the EU and the possible threat of terrorist attacks.

On the other side, it is true that the message from this decision towards the candidate member-states is not that positive. We do acknowledge the there was no possibility that any candidate member-state could join the EU during the next five years, but even symbolically the abolition of the position of Commissioner for Enlargement is expected to have some impact, especially for complicated cases such as Turkey. Nonetheless, we do have to stress out that from that prism the position, power and role of Federica Mogherini as new EU foreign policy chief is going to definitely increase, filling the gap left from the enlargement portfolio. And this is not necessarily bad.

The decision of Junker is also entrenched with additional symbolism: that he is not willing to follow-up with the current establishment of unproductive portfolios that demand high functional costs without any concrete outcome. The EU is not going to withdraw in-field missions or neglect the membership process; it is just postponing the entire process in order to give emphasis in internal affairs, only to give the chance to the European establishment to come back stronger, more appealing and less vulnerable to external threats of any kind. From this perspective, the decision of Junker is wise, thoughtful, and definitely a strongly pro-European one.

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