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Article

Tanel Kerikmäe, Holger Mölder, and Archil Chochia

Enlargement has been one of the European Union’s (EU) most successful foreign policies, but it has its limits: the EU cannot expand endlessly. The Treaty on European Union stipulates that any European country may apply for membership if the state respects and follows the EU’s democratic values and meets all the membership criteria. The timely process can be shown by the example of Estonia. Estonia applied for membership in 1995 and became a member in 2004. Estonia had been occupied by the Soviet Union for a long time and, due to that, the skepticism of joining a new union arose when the membership talks started. Estonia has gone through a very interesting historical period from regaining its independence, its path to the EU membership, eventual EU membership, and the country’s EU presidency in the second half of 2017. In the 1990s, the integration into the EU was accepted by many Estonians as a touchstone of belonging to the free world, a status as that would help to consolidate freedom and boost the economy. The harmonization of Estonian economic, legal, political and social system into the EU framework was a difficult and not a problem-free process. There were several heated discussions related to the sovereignty and constitutional independence the accession turned out to be possible. The majority of Estonians still supports the EU membership. After joining EU, Estonians feel more secure, granted with freedom, and well-being. According to a Eurobarometer survey, citizens feel the biggest benefits in the area of free movement of persons, goods, and services. Estonia has also significantly contributed to the structures of the EU. However, the growth of Euro-skepticism can be also detected recently in Estonia with growing popularity of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, a member of a government coalition established after the parliamentary elections of 2019. Enlargement has been one of the European Union’s (EU) most successful foreign policies, but it has its limits: the EU cannot expand endlessly. The Treaty on European Union stipulates that any European country may apply for membership if the state respects and follows the EU’s democratic values and meets all the membership criteria. The timely process can be shown by the example of Estonia. Estonia applied for membership in 1995 and became a member in 2004. Estonia had been occupied by the Soviet Union for a long time and, due to that, the skepticism of joining a new union arose when the membership talks started. Estonia has gone through a very interesting historical period from regaining its independence, its path to the EU membership, eventual EU membership, and the country’s EU presidency in the second half of 2017. In the 1990s, the integration into the EU was accepted by many Estonians as a touchstone of belonging to the free world, a status as that would help to consolidate freedom and boost the economy. The harmonization of Estonian economic, legal, political and social system into the EU frameworkwas a difficult and not a problem-free process. There were several heated discussions related to the sovereignty and constitutional independence the accession turned out to be possible. The majority of Estonians still supports the EU membership. After joining EU, Estonians feel more secure, granted with freedom, and well-being According to a Eurobarometer survey, citizens feel the biggest benefits in the area of free movement of persons, goods, and services. . Estonia has also significantly contributed to the structures of the EU. However, the growth of Euro-skepticism can be also detected recently in Estonia with growing popularity of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia, a member of a government coalition established after the parliamentary elections of 2019.

Article

Edith Drieskens

Belgium is one of the six founding members of European integration, but it is often seen as a special one. In both policy and research, the country is widely known as the “heart of Europe.” It even sells itself to the outside world in this way. This metaphor has a double meaning, a literal and a figurative one. First, Belgium’s capital, Brussels, qualifies as the unofficial capital of the European Union. This meaning is strongly supported by facts, with the city hosting the most numerous and the most important institutions. The second meaning requires more detailed consideration. Indeed, and second, Belgium is perceived to be the most European of all European countries, even prepared to exchange sovereignty for supranationalism at any time and any price. A closer look at data, decisions, and developments shows, however, that while support for European integration is widespread, it is not omnipresent either in time or in place. Particularly in Flanders, the northern part of the country, support has been less obvious than elsewhere. Indeed, to understand Belgium and/in the European Union, one also has to understand the functioning of Belgium as a federal state composed of communities and regions, thus as a system of multilevel governance. While it is not the only federation among European Union member states, it uniquely combines a wide variety of federal characteristics. Most importantly here, the gradual process of federalization that Belgium has experienced has given the federated entities a strong voice in European Union decision-making. Member states still need to speak with one voice, however, resulting in a complex system of coordination and representation. The possibilities and realities of this system have attracted quite a lot of scholarly interest. The same goes for the rather fundamental question of whether the European Union and federated entities should be seen as unintended partners in the hollowing out of the federal state or whether the opposite holds true and the European Union is coming to Belgium’s rescue. The jury is still out on this, though the answer seems to be growing more and more complex as time passes.

Article

The Presidency plays a crucial role in the management and organization of the Council of the European Union’s work and the institution’s interactions with third parties. Formally, the Presidency just chairs the meetings of Council bodies; but over time, member states have endowed it with a range of procedural prerogatives to structure the Council’s agenda and broker agreements, which post holders can potentially use to advance their own private interests. The potential for abuse of these powers raises two related questions: first, why would member states grant these powers to the Presidency, and second, is the Presidency actually able to use these powers to advance its own priorities and policy preferences? In response to the first question, functionalist theories suggest that member states delegate powers to the Presidency to reduce transaction costs and solve collective action. According to Tallberg, member states grant the Presidency procedural prerogatives and provide it with administrative resources to ensure an efficient management of the Council’s agenda, avoid inadvertent negotiation failure or suboptimal negotiation outcomes, and provide adequate representation of the institution vis-à-vis external actors. Kleine’s theory suggests that the Presidency acts as an adjudicator of the legitimacy of demands for concessions by member states that find themselves in the minority but claim to experience strong domestic pressures for non-compliance. By making impartial and thus credible recommendations about whether the formal voting rule or consensus decision-making should apply in these situations, the Presidency contributes to the long-term sustainability of international cooperation. The two explanatory accounts disagree about whether the growing role of the Presidency reflects an incremental accumulation of powers over time in response to new tasks or just an extension of already existing powers into new areas. Historical research on the development of Presidency powers could shed more light on this topic. Responses to the second question about the actual influence of the Presidency can be distinguished according to whether they relate to the Presidency’s scheduling power or to its proposal-making power. Control over the schedule and agenda of meetings, as well as the time devoted to different issues during a meeting, allows the Presidency to affect the relative allocation of attention to different policies. Allowing the Presidency to structure the agenda according to its own priorities comes with tangible collective benefits while resulting in little redistributive costs for other member states. In contrast, the Presidency’s exercise of proposal-making power, through its first-mover advantage, control over the negotiation text, and its privilege to call a vote or declare consensus, leads to biased negotiation outcomes with little or no benefits for member states but direct and tangible redistributive consequences. Thus, the Presidency’s prerogatives are largely based on informal norms and behavioral practices, which can always be superseded by recourse to formal rules. However, member states have little incentive to do so when the Presidency exercises its scheduling power but ample incentive if it exercises its proposal-making power. Existing empirical research provides clear evidence that the Presidency can exercise both scheduling power and proposal-making power at least to some extent and under certain conditions. Interesting questions for future research relate to the overall size and prevalence of the effects of the Presidency’s powers, the mechanisms through which these effects are generated, as well as the conditions that explain their variation over time, across policy areas, and across member state characteristics.

Article

Diana Panke and Julia Gurol

Smaller European Union member states face size-related challenges in the EU multilevel system, such as weighted voting in day-to-day policymaking in which EU secondary law is produced or high workloads and fewer resources during intergovernmental conferences (IGC) to set EU primary law. Coping with these challenges is paramount to smaller states’ success. Thus, they can use different strategies, most notably selective engagement and negotiation strategies that do not require much material power, such as persuasion, framing, and coalition-building, as well as the Council Presidency as a window of opportunity to influence the agenda. Applying these strategies allows small states to punch above their weight. Yet, doing so is easier the longer states have been members of the EU. Older, smaller states have more extensive networks, more insights about past policies, and in-depth knowledge on best practices that help them in effectively navigating day-to-day EU negotiations as well as IGCs.

Article

Ramūnas Vilpišauskas

For Lithuania, the geopolitical motive to join the European Union (EU) in order to prevent a repetition of the 1940s occupation has been as important as a motive to “return to Europe.” This motivation to become part of the West led the country’s political elites to conceptualize accession into the EU as an important part of the transition reforms which were expected to modernize Lithuania’s economy, public administration, and governance as well as contribute to the country’s security and create conditions for economic catching up. Membership in the EU, accession into NATO, and good neighborly relations became the three cornerstones of Lithuania’s foreign policy since the early 1990s and enjoyed broad political support. It was this support that arguably allowed for the maintenance of political and administrative mobilization and consistency of preparations for the membership during the pre-accession process. Public support for the EU membership remained above the EU average since accession in 2004. Around the time of accession, a new concept of Lithuania as “a regional leader” was formulated by the core of the nation’s foreign policy makers. The concept of a regional leader implied active efforts of mediating between Eastern neighbors and the EU, often in coordination with Poland, which was driven by the desire to stabilize the Eastern neighborhood and advance relations between Eastern neighbors and the EU and NATO. Although coalition building within the EU has been fluctuating between a strategic partnership with Poland and Baltic-Nordic cooperation, also most recently the New Hanseatic league, attention to the Eastern neighborhood and geopolitical concerns originating from perceived aggressive Russian policies remained a defining characteristic of the country’s European policy independent of personalities and political parties, which have been at the forefront of policy making. Completion of integration into the EU, in particular in the fields of energy and transport, as well as dealing with “leftovers” from accession into the EU, such as joining the Schengen area and the euro zone, became the other priorities since 2004. Lithuania has been one of the fastest converging countries in the EU in terms of GDP per capita since its accession. However, membership in the EU Single Market also had controversial side effects. Relatively large flows of emigrants to other EU member states generated political debates about the quality of governance in Lithuania and its long-term demographic trends such as a decreasing and aging population. Introduction of the euro in 2015 was perceived by the public as the main factor behind price rises, making inflation the most important public issue in 2016–2018. High per capita income growth rates as well as the prospect of the United Kingdom exiting the EU triggered discussions about excessive dependency on EU funding, the potential effects of its decline after 2020, and sources of economic growth. There are increasingly divergent opinions regarding further deepening of integration within the EU, especially in regard to alignment of member states’ foreign and security policies as well as tax harmonization. Still, membership in the EU is rarely questioned, even by those who oppose further integration and advocate a “Europe of nations.”

Article

Ana Bojinović Fenko and Marjan Svetličič

Despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991/92, paradoxically, even before fully assuming statehood Slovenians were eager to engage in yet another international integration—the European Union. This historical and societal wager, rather than merely political elites’ driven perspective, dominates as the prevailing reason for pursuing EU membership; thus security assurance to a small geopolitically transit state, economic benefits of a larger common market in conditions of economic globalization, and cultural proximity of Slovenian to European society explain Slovenian general identity-related elements favoring membership in the EU. There is also a more immediate time-space related explanatory factor for this, namely, the collapsing of the socialist Yugoslavia starting by the end 1980s and a view of assuring the democratic political life and market-lead economy via integration with Western European countries rather than South Slavic nations or following other alternative scenarios like full liberalization with all partners’ strategy. Authors critically evaluate where and why during the effort of becoming an EU member state and performing excellently as one during the first four years, the state fell short of capability-building and/or seizing the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of the 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, of key importance for Slovenians currently stands a self-reflection of its development strategy, enhancing competitiveness, and the state’s role within the European family of nations. The main challenge is how to overcome the small state hindrances and more effectively formulate and project national interest to the EU level; with that in mind, the central questions for Slovenians remain assurance of social security to citizens, upgrading economic union to face more effectively global challenges and inter-state solidarity, refreshing enlargement policy for the remaining Western Balkans non-member states and ensuring Slovenian participation in the group of core states leading the European integration.

Article

Ireneusz Paweł Karolewski and Maciej Wilga

Multifaceted in its character, the relationship between Poland and the European Union is now more than a quarter of a century old. After the breakdown of the Eastern bloc, Poland signed the Association Agreement with the then European Communities in December 1991, which led up to an EU membership application three years later. Not yet a member, the country had some impact on the Union in the Nice Treaty negotiations (2000–2001), as well as on the European Constitutional Convention proceedings (2001–2003). After a successful EU membership referendum in 2003, reflecting a great deal of societal support, Poland, along with nine other newcomers, became a fully-fledged member of the EU. Once within the bloc, Warsaw was at pains to develop a more coherent EU policy, as it often changed its positions between more collaborative approaches and veto threats, but also absolving a successful rotating EU Council presidency in 2011. The country collaborated with other member states in Central and Eastern Europe—in the Visegrád framework and with the older member states—through the Weimar Triangle, for example, however with sometimes mixed results. Poland has prioritized a number of issues in the EU such as the energy sector, security and defense, and the Eastern partnership, the latter focusing on the EU Eastern neighbors, including Ukraine and Belarus. In particular, during the Ukraine-Russia conflict of 2014–2015, Poland was one of most active actors in the EU foreign policy. However, since 2015 Poland has become a subject of controversy within the EU, regarding the rule of law standards that were criticized by the European Commission and Warsaw’s rejection of a relocation scheme in the EU refugee and migrant policy.