Public attitudes on enlargement mixed

Federal Trust for Education and Research

Brendan Donnelly
 
Enlargement and related questions for the future of the European Union are rarely discussed at a popular level in the United Kingdom. To the extent that they are, public attitudes are mixed, with concern about competition for jobs from Eastern European workers gaining salience. At the political and official level, the question of the Union’s enlargement is one of much greater interest, not least because it has traditionally been regarded by British political circles as a policy which would undermine Franco-German leadership within the European Union and act as a brake on the deepening of political integration. Both these goals have seen desirable aspirations to successive British governments of recent decades.
 
The next round of enlargement
 
The British government expects Croatia to be the next country to join the European Union, possibly with Iceland.[1] The British government supports Croatia’s candidature, but it is not yet clear whether British willingness to support Icelandic entry to the Union is dependent upon a settlement of outstanding financial issues between the two countries. British depositors who regard themselves as having been badly treated by the Icelandic banks could well form a powerful political lobby arguing against Icelandic membership before their claims have been satisfactorily settled. The accession of Croatia is unlikely to provoke any great interest or controversy in the United Kingdom, except in the unlikely event of a referendum being held on the subject. It is almost inconceivable that any British government could win any referendum on any European topic in the foreseeable future, with the possible exception of a referendum about wholesale British withdrawal from the European Union, in which the government campaigned against withdrawal.
 
Future enlargement
 
For the same reasons as weighed with its predecessors, the new British government is likely to regard Turkish accession to the Union as an important goal of policy.[2] This view will be reinforced by a general belief among the United Kingdom’s political classes that Turkey would be stabilised as a secular democracy, playing a constructive role in the Middle East, if it were anchored in the European Union. British public opinion on the subject of Turkish accession to the European Union remains largely untested. It should certainly not be assumed that non-elite opinion in the United Kingdom would be favourable to Turkish accession if the question ever became a pressing one. The accession of other potential candidate countries, for instance from the Western Balkans, is likely to remain of only marginal interest to the British government in comparison with the Turkish candidature.
 
The Union’s neighbours
 
The new British government is likely to seek good relations between the European Union and its neighbours such as the Ukraine, without encouraging the view that membership of the Union for such countries is a realistic possibility in current or foreseeable circumstances.
 
Neighbourhood policy and the Mediterranean Union
 
Neither the European Neighbourhood Policy nor the Union for the Mediterranean play any discernible part in pubic or political discourse on the European Union in the United Kingdom.


[1] Conservative General Election Manifesto 2010.

[2] Ibid.

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