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EU enlargement is right despite the crisis

Op-ed article by the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU, Milena Vicenová.

“It’s a big moment in our history... we are joining more successful countries in Europe,” Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic said after casting his ballot in the referendum on his country’s accession to the European Union, which took place on Sunday 22 January 2012.  “I’m happy that Europe will become my home.”

Although opinion polls had favoured the victory of the “YES” camp, the announcement of the referendum’s results was followed with much interest. In the end, 66.27% of voters answered “yes” to the question “Do you support the membership of the Republic of Croatia in the European Union?”. The opponents, often basing their argument on fears of a loss of sovereignty, numbered 33.13 %. It might be useful to recall that in the June 2003 referendum in the Czech Republic, 77.33% of those who took part voted in favour of EU accession.

After the signature of the Accession Treaty on 9 December 2011 and its subsequent ratification, nothing stands in the way of the EU population growing, on 1 July 2013, by 4.3 million and EU area including the territory from Vukovar up to Dubrovnik.

I recall a frank debate that I had with some of my colleagues, Ambassadors of founding Member States of the EU. „Do you really think that EU enlargement is the right thing to do at the time of a serious economic crisis?”, they asked me during a break in a long night-time negotiation on the status of Serbia and the opening of talks with Montenegro just days before the December European Council. They also pointed out that citizens of several EU Member States are supposed to take part in elections this year...

Yes, I really do think that EU enlargement is important and needed right now. It is not only that a full exploitation of the freedoms of the single market, with half a billion people, e.g. potential customers, may provide the necessary stimulus to European economy. The European Union also needs a closer a more personal reminder of the tragic historical experience of the citizens of Western Balkans countries. It will not hurt to realise that peace and good neighbourly relations cannot be taken for granted, not even in Europe.

 

Milena Vicenová

Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU

 

Brussels, 24 January 2012

 

Foto: Diana Černáková