Brussels is approaching the fifth anniversary of the EU’s big bang enlargement underscoring the accomplishments and warning that any return to old-fashioned protectionism could place the gains of solidarity at risk.
Ten new member states consigned the Cold War to history when they joined the then 15-member EU bloc in 2004 — eight once communist plus Cyprus and Malta. Romania and Bulgaria were admitted in 2007. EU economic commissioner Joaquín Almunia summed up: “This enlargement put an end to the division of Europe, helped consolidate democracy in these countries and brought economic benefits for the whole EU and for all the members of the European Union.” Both the good times and the global downturn have changed labour flow patterns. There is less work in the West. Central Europeans are less willing to leave home. Unemployment in their countries is down – even as non-euro currencies suffer. A Communication on “Five Years of an Enlarged EU” says half the recent migrants to the UK have returned home. Not to let single market prosperity be undermined, this year the 12 newest EU members are due to receive seven billion euros in communal development aid, and the European Investment Bank says it will lend them 11.5 billion euros.