Austrian perspectives on EU enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy

Hakan Akbulut

Given the changes brought about by the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the repercussions of the Greek financial crisis, neither the enlargement issue nor the European Neighbourhood Policy were paid much attention to in the reporting period. Nevertheless, from an Austrian point of view, the candidates most likely to join the EU in the next enlargement round are Croatia and Iceland. Croatia’s admission is strongly supported by the Austrian government. Foreign Minister Spindelegger asserted that the waiting-room policy vis-à-vis the Western Balkan countries had to be ended.[1] Even though certain countries could not recognise any benefits in Western Balkan countries joining the EU, the Union should stick to its plans irrespective of the current problems, the Foreign Minister added. He also emphasised the importance of countries like Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia for Austrian investment and trade. Except for the latter, however, the inclusion of the Western Balkan countries was expected to be completed by 2020, Spindelegger argued.[2] Spindelegger also stated that Austria would assist these countries in the process of EU approximation. Since Croatia reached an agreement with Slovenia to refer the border dispute to an international court and the Commission offered the view that accession talks could be finalised in 2011, the country is anticipated to join the Union by 2012.[3] From the point of view of Andreas Mölzer, a Member of European Parliament from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) – a party which usually has strong reservations about EU enlargement – neither the border problems with Slovenia, nor any lack of cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague should be allowed to further delay Croatia’s admission to the Union.[4] Croatia’s inclusion is also strongly supported by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO). Croatia’s quick inclusion in the Union would be good for both Austria and Croatia, the President of the Chamber, Christoph Leitl, claimed.[5] With regard to Iceland, given positive signals from Brussels, it is expected to join in 2013.[6] The country’s accession process does not attract much attention and is almost taken for granted. Even for the aforementioned FPÖ, Iceland’s accession does not constitute any obvious problems. Therefore, in the view of Mölzer, Iceland’s accession could proceed quickly as the country is European and meets EU standards.[7] Except for some problems related to the issue of fisheries, there are no stumbling blocks, Mölzer argued. However, according to a report by the daily Der Standard, Iceland is confronted with financial claims by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands as both had to compensate investors who lost their money when the banking system in Iceland crashed. Therefore, Iceland’s response to these claims is expected to affect its membership prospects.

A candidate country that is not going to join the Union during the next enlargement round is obviously Turkey. Almost all political parties seem to have reservations against Turkish membership or categorically oppose it. Only the Greens seem to support Turkish accession to the Union – yet, insofar as Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen criteria, and only after the social, ecological and democratic integration of existing members has proceeded to higher levels.[8] Moreover, from the Greens’ point of view, the countries of Southeast Europe have to be given priority in the enlargement process. The coalition government, comprising the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party, is in favour of negotiations with an open end and emphasises the prospect of a referendum on the issue should the negotiations be finalised.[9] However, their position is to some extent ambiguous, oscillating between a conditional “Yes” and a veiled “No”.[10] As for the Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria, both parties categorically oppose Turkish membership. Andreas Mölzer from the Freedom Party reiterated in April 2010 that negotiations with Turkey should be stopped immediately saying that Turkish membership would pose a threat to the Christian-occidental culture of Europe.[11] It is also worth mentioning that Austrians are generally known for their enlargement scepticism. Eurobarometer polls conducted in the period from 27 October 2009 to 13 November 2009 showed, for example, that only 28 percent of the public supported further enlargement while 65 percent opposed the idea.[12]

In the reporting period, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) barely attracted any media coverage at all. Except for brief references to the difficulties Spain had in organising the next summit due to the refusal of Arab countries to participate in a conference where Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman would also be present and the announcement that the summit had finally been postponed, there were no debates or elaborations on substance of the UfM.[13] As for the Eastern Partnership, even though there were no explicit references to the strategy as such, it is known that the Danube and Black Sea regions constitute core areas of interest to Foreign Minister Spindelegger. During a speech held in January 2010, Spindelegger reiterated the importance of both regions for Austria and Europe and maintained that due to an Austrian-Romanian co-initiative, the EU Commission was working on an EU Strategy for the Danube Region, which would be presented at the end of 2010.[14] Spindelegger also pointed to the importance of the Black Sea region, especially for investment and energy security.

[1] EU muss “auf Schiene bleiben”, 14 May 2010, available at: (last access: 19 May 2010).

[2] Der Standard, 21 January 2010.

[3] Der Standard, 14 October 2009; Der Standard, 8 November 2009.

[4] Freiheitlicher Parlamentsklub: Mölzer: EU-Beitrittsverhandlungen mit Kroatien so rasch wie möglich abschließen!, 5 May 2010, available at: (last access: 19 May 2010).

[5] WKO: EU Panorama, 16 October 2009, available at:,vom,22.,J%C3%A4nner,2010 (last access: 22 May 2010).

[6] Der Standard, 24 February 2010.

[7] Freiheitlicher Parlamentsklub: Mölzer: EU-Beitrittskandidaten dürfen nicht alle in einen Topf geworfen werden!, 23 November 2009, available at: (last access: 18 May 2010).

[8] Die Grünen: Türkei: EU-Beitrittsverhandlungen, available at: (last access: 23 May 2010).

[9] Bundeskanzleramt: Regierungsprogramm für die XXIV Gesetzgebungsperiode, 2 December 2008, available at: (last access: 18 May 2010).

[10] As the daily Der Standard reported, during the election campaign to the European Parliament, Ernst Strasser from the People’s Party, for example, called for aborting the negotiations. See Der Standard, 22 May 2009.

[11] Freiheitlicher Parlamentsklub: Mölzer: Türkeibeitritt wäre Bedrohung für christlich-abendländische Kultur Europas, 7 April 2010, available at: (last access: 22 May 2010).

[12] Europäische Kommission: Eurobarometer 72. Herbst 2009, Nationaler Bericht Österreich, available at: (last access: 28 May 2010).
[13] Die Presse, 11 May 2010; Die Presse, 21 May 2010.
[14] Bundesministerium für europäische und internationale Angelegenheiten (BmeiA): Rede von Bundesminister Dr. Michael Spindelegger zu den Schwerpunkten der österreichischen EU-Politik, 21 January 2010, available at: (last access: 15 May 2010).