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Enlargement and the EU's growing pains

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Enlargement and the EU's growing pains

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May 1, 2004 was a proud day for many new Europeans. Ten countries, mainly from what was the eastern bloc, joined the European Union 14 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Since the entry of those ten, Romania and Bulgaria have also become part of the club, joining in 2007. The EU’s expansion has seen its population increase by 26 percent while its territory is 34 percent larger. Many western eurosceptics predicted a catastrophic influx of cheap eastern workers, the so-called ‘Polish plumbers.’ However the nightmare scenarios have so far failed to materialise. With the enlargement of the EU came the expansion of the Schengen Area and the raising of more internal borders but questions remain over the need or the benefits of expanding even further. Croatia is set to join next year or the year after. Macedonia has been a candidate since 2005 and is joined in the wings by Turkey, although talks with Ankara have stalled. Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia are in line for candidate status and Iceland’s current economic problems could encourage it to join the queue. Perhaps the most complicated and controversial of these potential members is Turkey. Germany and France oppose Turkish entry, pointing to perceived deficiencies in its democratic system and the ongoing row it has with Cyprus. Some EU members, including France, insist there will be no further enlargement until the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by all concerned. Designed to streamline decision-making in a bigger European bloc, the treaty is still to be officially rubber-stamped by Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland. A sign that EU enlargement has brought with it growing pains along the way.