Saturday, January 31, 2009

EU Enlargement and the National Right to Veto EU Membership Bid

As is well known, the Treaties of Rome (1957) were originally signed by six countries (Belgium, Germany,France,Italy,Luxembourg and the Netherlands). Six successive “enlargements” later (1973, 1981, 1986, 1995, 2004, 2007), today’s European Union consists of 27 Member States. Accession negotiations have been opened withTurkey and Croatia and and should soon start with Macedonia. The EU is also committed to eventually offer EU membership to Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro,Serbia and Kosovo (these countries are all known as “potential candidate countries”). Last but not least, it has been recently suggested that Iceland could win early membership even though the EU accession procession usually requires several years of negotiations (I will get back to this question in my next post).

What is less well known is that once “in” each EU Member State is entitled to “veto” any candidate country. Indeed, according to Article 49(2) of the EU Treaty, “The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”

This means that it is up to each EU Member State to decide on how to ratify the “accession treaty”. Most Member States do so by means of parliamentary ratification but in some Member States, a referendum may also be used.

A recent episode brought this issue back to the fore. Slovenia, being an EU member since 2004, is trying to force Croatia to settle a long-standing border dispute under the threat of vetoing its membership bid by calling for a national referendum over Croatia’s EU accession. This childish blackmail is so contrary to the ideals on which the EU is founded that it should be condemned in the strongest terms by Slovenia’s EU partners. It is as if history has not taught the Slovenian government the perils of igniting nationalist passions.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a current EU Member State is acting as a negative and obstructionist force. On the irrational – some may say laughable – ground that the name “Macedonia” could lead the country bearing this name (population: 2 million) to make territorial claims over Greece’s northern province of the same name, Greece has demanded and – sadly – obtained from its EU partners that Macedonia be referred to as the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Adding insult to injury, the resolution of the name dispute with Greece has become a precondition for further progress on Macedonia ’s EU membership bid.

These sad examples offer additional evidence that the EU should move away from the unanimity requirement when it comes to ratifying amending and accession treaties.


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De Gaulle showed how simple it is to cause paralysis of an organisation with six members.

With 27 or more member states the unanimity rule does for the European Union what the 'liberum veto' did for Poland.

Posted by: Ralf Grahn | Jan 31, 2009 2:32:17 PM

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