Enlargement fatigue, which has become the dominant paradigm in Brussels and most European capitals for the last 15 years, has been one of the main misadventures linked to the hangover of the Great Recession. Between the 1970s and the second half of the 2000s, the successive entries of new Member States had served to revitalize both the newcomers (and Spain is a brilliant example) and the process of supranational integration itself with simultaneous transfers of institutional sovereignty. and competence. The EU became the first world power when it came to pacifying, democratizing and prospering countries that until a short time ago were pointing at each other, enduring dismal dictatorships and suffering from economic backwardness.
But that virtuous circle broke on both sides of the continent as the crisis, the rise of populist nationalism and the less brilliant side of globalization put an end to the optimism of the so-called end of history. In 2019, the equivalent of a generation since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Bulgarian Ivan Krastev and the American Stephen Holmes published a fascinating book (The Light that Goes Out) where they narrate how the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain they had gone from admiration to resentment of Western Europe. In turn, the EU of 15, nostalgic for the consensus prior to the great enlargement and exasperated by the illiberal regressions coming from Warsaw or Budapest, had also been moving towards an undisguised rejection of new accessions.
If the East already seemed interested only in imitating rent, but not the dominant values further West, the prudent thing to do seemed to be to close the door on potential new Trojan horses and leave the Western Balkans in the hallway indefinitely or consider Ukraine and Moldova mere neighbors who are not even called to occupy a room in the house.
That conclusion was quite biased, as demonstrated by the Brexit fiasco or the successful convergence of the new Central and Eastern European partners in innumerable areas. But it has undoubtedly been the Russian aggression against its neighbor that has radically changed the panorama. The president of the Commission last year and the president of the European Council now echo a new consensus that recovers enlargement as the manifest destiny of the EU. It is not possible, without stigmatizing the supranational project forever, to ignore the courage of those who today defend the values of the best Europe.
Of course, the challenges are immense. Suffice it to illustrate the fact that eight of the 10 applicants have suffered a war at some point in the period from the nineties to today. The new moment will not prevent the candidates from continuing to submit to demanding demands for reform in order to assume the acquis communautaire without shortcuts. Nor that institutions and policies have to know how to adapt to a Europe of almost 40 members (overcoming unanimity in foreign policy, reformulating the CAP deeply or promoting differentiated integration in the euro, defense or mobility and migrations.
But the key of the last year and a half is overcoming the vetoes, the assumption of an obligation of a historical entity such that today proclaiming itself a Europeanist while rejecting the enlargement would be the equivalent of someone who considers himself a democrat, but defends the modality of male census suffrage, or who is in favor of the family, but rejects homosexual homes. It will very possibly be at the summit of Granada where it becomes official that the light that was fading shines again. The East wants to imitate again and the West can only live up to it.
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Ignacio Molina A. de Cienfuegos is a professor of political science at the UAM and a researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute.
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