Together with monetary union, enlargement is the only real breakthrough the EU has witnessed in the last decade.

The failed Constitutional adventure has exacted a high price in terms of EU self-confidence in its capacity to honour pre-existing enlargement commitments. But there are no reasons for the EU to fear further expansion if and when this is properly managed. Historically, enlargement and integration have reinforced each other: no doubt, the EU at 27 is far more integrated than the EU at 15, 12, 9 or 6. In fact, together with monetary union, enlargement is the only real breakthrough the EU has witnessed in the last decade. 

True, enlargement may have exacerbated existing tensions (e.g. on transatlantic relations, levels of economic regulation, etc.) but can hardly be accused of having created them. Enlargement has thus to be digested, not rejected. This requires those in favour of an open Europe to move towards a more proactive strategy: i.e. justifying and backing enlargement policies both with data showing how the benefits of enlargement massively outweigh its costs as well as with arguments about how the EU needs to remain open if it is to promote open societies worldwide and its periphery. Making visible the costs of no-enlargement is thus crucial: should the EU continue with the introspective approach seen so far and fail to honour existing enlargement comments, this would lead to a disorderly periphery presided by nationalist-populist authoritarian regimes, increased regional tensions and migration pressures. The costs of managing a closed EU would be twofold: first, to the outside, the EU would have to be tougher on its neighbours (increasing border controls and policing, restricting visa regimes, etc.); to the inside, this tougher discourse would contribute to consolidate among the European public the sort of nationalist sentiments and negative feelings about “near-abroads” which may ultimately render impossible further political integration. The EU may thus move from an "open" to a "close" approach, ultimately incompatible with its values and principles.
To counter these trends, the EU needs to do some serious thinking about how to arrange its relations with its neighbours, how to be fair, flexible and efficient at the same time. This requires imagining new institutions and arrangements, to break up the rigid distinction between members and outsiders, to allow for varying forms of membership and flexible integration. The EU should break through the logic of borders rather than copying old-fashioned state models: rather than recreating borders and setting up walls, it should aim at crossing and diluting them into enhanced spaces of peace, prosperity and democracy.

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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.