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20 years of eastward enlargement - a landmark anniversary

Pixabay/Leonhard Niederwimmer
Pixabay/Leonhard Niederwimmer

From 15 to 25: on 1 May 2004, ten countries and 75 million people joined the EU. To mark the 20th anniversary, the IEP looks back on debates about the historic enlargement round, some of which have great similarities to contemporary discussions.

"Enlargement and accession as responses to the global political caesura of 1989/90 have made the EU the central organising power in Europe and increased its global political potential," writes Barbara Lippert in the article 'The Enlargement Policy of the European Union' in the Yearbook of European Integration 2003/2004. In their foreword, the editors of the yearbook, Werner Weidenfeld and Wolfgang Wessels, make a similar assessment of the EU accession of ten states in Eastern Central Europe: "The most ambitious peace project in the history of Europe is on the way to its successful completion."

Looking back on the major enlargement round in 2004, both differences and parallels to today's debate on a new eastward enlargement are apparent. In December 2023, the EU opened accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, and further negotiations are underway with Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia are candidates for accession, while negotiations with Turkey are currently frozen.

The EU is reacting to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine by revitalising its enlargement policy. In contrast to 2004, however, EU enlargement now appears to be a geopolitical necessity in order to maintain its global political potential and prevent the war from spreading. At the same time, doubts about the EU's ability to expand and its need for reform are dominating public debate.

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the eastward enlargement, the IEP is publishing the article 'The Enlargement Policy of the European Union' by Barbara Lippert in the Yearbook of European Integration 2004 as a chronicle of the history of European integration.

Furthermore, Barbara Lippert's article of the same name from 2023 is freely accessible for a limited time at this link in the Nomos eLibrary:

Lippert 2023_Die Erweiterungspolitik der Europäischen Union

Team & authors

About the Yearbook of European Integration project: How is the EU dealing with current crises? In which direction is European integration heading? What has happened in Brussels and the member states in the last year? The Yearbook of European Integration has been answering these questions annually since 1980.

Image copyright: Pixabay/Leonhard Niederwimmer