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Last Updated: Monday, 1 January 2007, 08:17 GMT
Q&A: EU enlargement
Italian policeman guarding EU summit
Enlargement is meant to make Europe safer

Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union on 1 January 2007.

They take the membership of the bloc from 25 to 27 member states - a long way from its beginnings as a six-nation Economic Community in 1958.

Why is the EU enlarging, is it a good thing or a bad thing, and what do Bulgaria and Romania bring to the EU?

Why are these two countries joining the EU, and why now?

Bulgaria and Romania applied to join the EU in the early 1990s along with eight other former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, once they were no longer under the power of the Soviet Union.

The other eight moved quickly to carry out political and economic reforms, and joined the EU in 2004. Bulgaria and Romania were slower, and are only now judged to have met the EU's membership conditions.

Are Bulgaria and Romania really ready for membership?

Czech Republic

Officials at the European Commission have been quoted as saying that they are not really ready, but that delaying accession may not be the best way to encourage further reforms.

The Commission was hoping, for example, that Bulgaria would take big steps over the summer to tackle high-level corruption and organised crime, but officials in Brussels say they have been disappointed.

Nonetheless, a decision has been taken that it is better to have Bulgaria and Romania inside the club - under threat of strong sanctions if EU funds are not properly administered or crime gangs continue to flourish - rather than leaving them out in the cold.

How will they fit in with the rest of the EU?

Bulgaria and Romania make up 6% of the EU's population and less than 1% of its GDP. Two extra seats are being added to the European Commission, and 54 to the European Parliament.

Bulgaria and Romania are the poorest members of the EU, with GDP per head about a third of the EU average. However their economies are growing quickly, at 5-7% per year..

What do they bring to the club?

The European Commission says the two countries' rapid growth and highly motivated workforce will be an asset for the EU economy.

It also says both countries can help shape the EU's foreign and security policy - Romania as a bridge to Eastern Europe, including Moldova, and Bulgaria as an interface with the Balkan and Black Sea region.

Will the expansion of the EU now come to a halt?

Bulgaria and Romania joined on 1 January 2007
Turkey and Croatia started membership talks in October 2005
Macedonia officially gained "candidate" status in December 2005
Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia are expected to join in future

Probably not. The EU has promised the Balkan countries they can all join when they meet the conditions. Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are already officially labelled as "candidates" for membership.

However, most experts expect the EU to go slow on further enlargement from now on. For one thing, opposition to the whole process is growing in some member states. For another, EU treaties will have to be revised before any more countries can join. Experts say the EU may be prepared to "tinker" with treaties to allow Croatia in, but major reform will be necessary after that.

Wasn't the EU already big enough before 2004, when it had 15 members?

Some member states have always had misgivings about enlarging the EU to the east - and these only intensified after France and the Netherlands voted against the proposed EU constitution in 2005.

However, EU treaties say any European country can apply to join if it meets the conditions, such as democracy, respect for human rights, the rule of law and a market economy.

Is public opinion in the EU in favour of more enlargement?

Graphic showing public opinion on EU enlargement
Polls suggest attitudes towards enlargement are cooling. Forty-six per cent of people questioned in an autumn 2006 Eurobarometer poll were in favour of further enlargement (down from 49% a year months earlier), and 42% were against (up from 39% six months earlier). The rest did not know.

However, the picture varies from country to country. People in countries which joined the EU in 2004 seem to be broadly in favour of further enlargement, as are the people of Greece, Sweden and Spain. But in five other member states - Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the UK - only 30-36% support the idea.

How much does enlargement cost?

In 2005, the 10 countries which joined the EU in 2004 received about 4bn euros (2.7bn) more from the EU than they paid into the budget. This comes to about 4% of the EU budget, which is itself about 1% of the EU's gross national income. In 2006, Bulgaria and Romania are getting about 1.5bn euros in pre-accession aid.

Of the older EU members, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland also traditionally end up getting more back than they paid in. Spain's "positive balance" in 2005 was in fact bigger than that of the 10 new member states put together. In future Spain will do less well from the EU budget, and the newer member states - the poorer ones, at least - will do better.

These calculations do not take into account the fact that EU money spent in one country - for example to build a road - will often be paid to contractors from a different EU country. Nor do they take into account that expansion of the single market is financially beneficial for all concerned.

What are the arguments against enlargement?

Here are some of them:

  • It could lead to mass immigration, and increased organised crime
  • Workers from poorer countries take jobs from richer ones, and companies relocate to countries with lower labour costs and worse social protection
  • The richer member states cannot afford to pay huge subsidies to the poorer states
  • The broader the EU gets, the more difficult it is to achieve deep integration
  • The EU will grind to a halt, because with so many members it will never be able to agree on anything

What are the arguments in favour of enlargement?

Supporters say it is reuniting a continent divided by the Cold War, spreading stability and prosperity, expanding the single market, and giving Europe more weight on the world stage.

They also have a specific response to each of the above arguments against enlargement:

  • Immigration helps drive economic growth, and the EU will be able to work with new member states to tackle organised crime and trafficking
  • Cheaper labour is good for the economies of richer European nations - and it is better for them if companies relocate to Central Europe than to India or China
  • The richer member states gain more from being members of a large single market than they pay out in transfers to the poorer countries
  • A broader union can also be a deeper one - the EU has been expanding at regular intervals since 1973 and all the while integration has been steadily increasing
  • Decision-making in the EU has not ground to a halt yet, despite the failure to pass a new constitution which would have simplified procedures.

Can EU member states refuse to accept migrant workers from another member state?

The EU regards free movement of workers as a fundamental right - but has nonetheless allowed member states to place restrictions on workers from eight of the 10 countries which joined the EU in 2004.

Restrictions will also be allowed in the case of workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

However, they cannot be continued for more than seven years. Countries which impose restrictions must tell the European Commission why they think the foreign workers would distort their labour market. They have to justify the decision again after two years, and again after five years.

Have EU voters ever been asked if they support enlargement?

Each enlargement has to be approved unanimously by the elected governments of each member state, and ratified in each national parliament.

No enlargement has yet been put to a referendum, though Ireland held two referendums on the Nice Treaty, which, among other things, paved the way for the 2004 enlargement. (The treaty was rejected at the first time of asking and approved at the second.)

Also, France has changed its constitution to ensure that French voters will have a say on future enlargements, after the accession of Croatia. Austria has also given notice that it will hold a referendum on Turkish membership, when the time comes.

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