Fifteen years ago Malta joined the European Union (EU) and four years later in 2008 it joined the Economic and Monetary Union. Throughout this period its economy performed exceptionally well, to the extent that it managed to escape the worse ravages of the Great Recession. In general, the majority of the Maltese people support EU membership. Rapid economic growth has produced a general “feel good” sentiment, which is not, however, shared by everyone. The Maltese political system has been dominated for many years by two parties, the Partit Nazzjonalista and the Labour Party, the only ones to elect candidates to the national parliament since 1966. In 2003, the Labour Party, which had opposed EU membership for many years, changed its policy. This brought the curtain down on parliamentary Euroscepticism in the country. In the meantime, economic success has meant that populist small parties have not been able to gain much traction with the electorate, and the established political parties were not dethroned by populist upsurge as happened in most of the rest of southern Europe. Growth has not led only to benefits, however. The construction sector is putting pressure to bear on scarce land resources, and the influx of foreign labor and a growing demand for housing have inflated rents and housing prices, often beyond the reach of lower income households. Unemployment stands at a low 3.8%, but more people are close to the poverty line. Malta is failing on some of the national targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. These challenges will have to be watched more closely in the years to come should this rate of growth be maintained.
The European integration process of the Western Balkans has been experiencing considerable stagnation since 2010, although the regional states have been formally following the accession stages. In spite of the remarkable achievements in the 2000s in terms of stability and engagement in reforms, the European Union (EU) conditionality policy is experiencing shortcomings in terms of tangible impact. Due also to its internal problems, the EU appears to have lost its shine in influencing domestic political agendas of the Western Balkan countries as in the case of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and has gradually lost the support of citizens in the region. This has had several consequences in terms of rising authoritarian practices, slowing down EU-related reforms and compliance with the acquis, some return to nationalistic rhetoric, and openness to influences of other global actors from the East, which do not necessarily maintain good relations with the EU. The enlargement fatigue that has affected the EU since the 2008 global crisis has had repercussions inside the EU institutions and domestic politics of member states. These changes have been reflected in the Union’s approach towards accession countries, undermining the credibility of the integration process and its commitment to the Western Balkans. The weakening of credibility and predictability on this path, together with the poor state capacities that characterize the Western Balkans, have produced some regress of the democracy indicators. The EU, with its conditionality, is still a determining factor in the trajectory of the countries of the region. However, there is a need to renew the commitments undertaken on both sides in order to make sure that the European perspective, stability, and democratization in the Western Balkans are irreversible and properly supported. The European Union is still considered the only game in town, but it has to face up to the enlargement fatigue and return to its leading role as an aspirational model for the Western Balkans.
The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was a founder member of the European integration process, namely the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) created in 1952. However, the circumstances were very different from the 2010s. Germany was a divided and defeated state until 1990. Integration provided important political and economic support to West Germany. From the 1970s, it strengthened the FRG’s foreign policy reach, for the new state was constrained by Cold War politics as well as other legacies, notably the Holocaust. European integration provided a framework for building trust with western neighbors, particularly France. The collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1989 and its absorption into the FRG through unification in 1990 brought about significant change to Germany’s relationship to European integration. The unified Germany became the largest member state. Initial concerns about German power in Europe were allayed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl pursuing deeper integration to bind the unified Germany further to integration: through creating the European Union (EU) itself and setting a course toward monetary union. Specific concerns about German power only really emerged in the 2010s, as the EU was bedeviled by several crises. In seeking to offer a comprehensive understanding of Germany’s relationship with the EU, coverage is organized around four broad themes: the historical dimension of the relationship; the substance of Germany’s European policy; the sources of Germany’s European policy; and Germany’s role and power in the EU. The historical dimension of Germany’s relationship with European integration is important as a first theme. It is no exaggeration to suggest that European integration helped emancipate the FRG from the historical legacy of turbulent relations with France, Nazi tyranny, and the opprobrium of the Holocaust. European integration afforded a complementary framework for Germany’s political and economic order. The importance of embedding German unification in a context of European integration should not be underestimated. Germany’s European policy has displayed considerable consistency up to the contemporary era. Support for further integration, for enlargement, the market order, and the development of an EU “civilian power” have been key components. These policies are important contributors to understanding Germany’s role in the EU: the second theme. The political and economic system of the FRG forms an important backdrop to understanding Germany’s policy and role in the EU: the third theme. From the 1960s until the 2010s, EU membership was subject to cross-party consensus and permissive public support. These circumstances allowed the federal government autonomy in pursuing its European policy. However, the political climate of European policy has become much more contested in the 2010s. Germany’s role was placed in the spotlight by the succession of crises that have emerged within the EU and in its neighborhood in the 2010s, particularly the eurozone and migration crises. The fourth theme explores how the question of German power re-emerged. These four themes are important to understanding Germany’s role in the EU, especially given Berlin’s centrality to its development.
Finland joined the European Union together with Austria and Sweden at the beginning of 1995. At first glance, Finnish membership appeared as a rapid change of political orientation, given the inflexible policy of neutrality the country had maintained until the early 1990s. In spite of the brevity of national adaptation and consideration, the decision to follow Sweden and submit an application for EU membership was based on an overwhelming political consensus. All the major political elites, including party and interest organizations, key actors in the private sector, and the media were in favor of Finnish membership. In the referendum for EU membership in October 1994, membership was supported by 57% of the people. A stable popular support characterized the Finnish EU policy for the first 15 years of its EU membership and distinguished Finland from its Nordic neighbours in the EU. The popular approach was anchored in a perception of EU membership representing a comprehensive change from the country’s difficult position in the Cold War era to full-fledged membership in the Western community. Finland thus joined the EU’s currency union as the only Nordic member state and adopted a constructive approach toward more integration in most policy fields. It was only in the context of the economic and financial crisis of 2008–2009 that Finnish public opinion became—at least temporarily—heavily polarized by the EU question. This resembled the situation in many other EU member states. During the two decades of Finland’s EU membership, the country has experienced a Europeanization of its political system and legislation. EU membership has contributed to a further parliamentarization of Finland’s semi-presidential political system with EU affairs being designated to the powers of the government and coordination of policies taking place at the prime minister’s office. Due mainly to EU membership, the Finnish Parliament has also become an influential actor in foreign and European policies. Finland has smoothly adjusted to the EU’s policies and has become a persistent proponent of the EU’s unity in external relations. Since the first years of its EU membership, the country has been in favor of majority decisions and a stronger role played by the commission and the EP in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It has also gone through a major change in its legislation on crisis management and the tasks of defense forces to be able to better fulfill membership commitments to the EU’s security and defense policies. After the polarization of EU opinion taking place in the framework of the general elections of 2011, and leading to the emergence of an anti-EU “Finns Party” as the third-largest party in Finland, a more consensual atmosphere has recently returned with increasing levels of public support to EU membership. The Finns Party first made its way to the governmental coalition together with the two largest center-right parties in 2015, which significantly softened its EU criticism and moved its focus to an anti-immigration agenda. Finally, in 2017 the Finns Party was split into two parts with the more moderate part practically failing to establish itself in parliamentary or European elections of the spring 2019.