Widening Without Falling Apart: Germany’s EU Enlargement Policy

Författare: Töglhofer Theresia

What is Germany’s view on enlargement? In this European Policy Analysis, Theresia Töglhofer (German Council on Foreign Relations) describes the evolution of Berlin’s policy on the future shape of the EU. Consolidation was once seen as a prerequisite, now the geopolitical context means that the enlargement of a (reformed) Union is considered vital. (2024:13epa)

In late 2023 Ursula von der Leyen described enlargement as ‘the call of history’. But states cannot join the EU without existing member states being on board. But what are the current member states’ positions regarding enlargement? In this analysis, Theresia Töglhofer presents the prevailing views in the EU’s most populous member state and the factors that shape those views.

Germany has long wanted it both ways: a strongly integrated union, yes, but one able to accommodate new members. Then, in the 21st century, its appetite for both enlargement and internal reform gradually diminished. But following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the need to incorporate the states of the Southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (those which are outside and want to come in) became acute.

There is wide political consensus on this point, and the economic benefits of enlargement are likewise widely perceived. However, Berlin also considers that accommodating these states requires reform: integrating ill-prepared candidates into an ill-prepared Union is a recipe for trouble. And at the same time Germany considers that the EU’s ‘DNA’ must be preserved, values such as freedom, democracy, justice. Berlin therefore continues to insist on a merits-based approach – notably when it comes to the rule of law – which is, however, complicated by the geopolitical imperative to speed up the process.

According to the author, Germany is well placed to play a leading role in the ongoing enlargement process, but doing so means carefully negotiating these contradictions and potential pitfalls.