European Union expansion refers to the process of the EU expanding across Europe via accession of new member states. In other words as more and more countries join the EU this sees European Union expansion across the continent. At the same time the term European Expansion could also be generalized to refer to the extended political and cultural reach of the organization and its increased power.
Already there has been much European Union expansion and it has gone from the ‘Inner Six’ countries that founded the ‘European Coal and Steel Community’ (a precursor to the EU) to the 27 members now a part of the EU.
The Inner Six countries were the ones that started it all in 1952. They responded to the Schuman Declaration’s call that coal and steel resources should be pooled under a single authority. The Six were signed the ‘Treaty of Paris’ and represented Europes first ‘Supernational’ community. These original six were France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The intention was to make war ‘not only unthinkable, but materially impossible’.
After the events of the Suez Crisis (an offensive war by France, the UK and Israel against Egypt over the Suez Canal, but which was cut short due to pressure from the US and USSR) however the UK came to the belief that it could no longer operate independently and joined the Six to become the Seven.
European Union expansion today revolves around countries applying for membership. In theory any European country is able to join the EU and begin integration but to do this they must meet certain criteria. The ‘Maastricht Treaty’ states that any European state may apply as long as it ‘respects the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law’.
European Union expansion is an ongoing process and is currently underfoot. The countries Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Turkey and Montenegro are all officially ‘candidate states’ while Albania and Serbia are pending having applied for membership. Further, Bosnia and Herzegovinia have begun the preparation of their application, while Kosovo is negotiating whether to begin application. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Western Balkans have ‘prioritized’ membership. Interestingly the potential for European Expansion has actually increased as three Caribbean islands have been integrated into the Netherlands in 2010.
Meanwhile European Union expansion is also continuing in other senses. For instance the Eurozone which is the term for those member states that use the Euro as currency is growing more slowly. Some leaders meanwhile are also pushing for an inner more fully integrated Federal Europe within the slower EU and this could be considered European Union expansion in another sense.