Clusters of EU legislation offer new opportunities for the next generation of EU enlargements

The EU legislation over the years is increasing exponentially as is the load of EU enlargements. For example, in 1995, when the EU has accepted the new members of Sweden, Austria and Finland, the European legislation contained close to 76 thousand pages. For the EU applicants at that time this was quite a task to take it over.

As the years went by and the EU institutions were busy with passing laws, the next wave of enlargements came in 2004. Only this time, the so-called Big Bang of the new member states had to take over nearly 150 thousand pages of EU legislation in stock since 1958. This was twice as much over less than just 10 years of EU’s legislative work. The EU had consecutive enlargements to Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and to Croatia in 2013. We had Brexit in 2020, which did not prevent a steady increase of adopted EU legal acts.

Today, by the end of 2021, we have the EU candidate countries from the Western Balkans, and the trio of EU-associated countries from the Eastern Neighbourhood, who aspire one day to enter the EU. And, if the EU were to enlarge now, these countries would have to transpose at least 340 thousand pages of EU legislation into national law.

One could imagine that the Western Balkan enlargements may take place in 2025. In this case, if the trend will continue, one can also predict that the EU legislation will have close to 400 thousand pages, and if hypothetically the Associated Trio countries of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia were getting the EU membership ticket in 2027, they should be prepared to take a half of million pages of EU legislation. For Moldavians this would be at least seven times more of preparations than for Swedes before joining the EU in 1995.

Given the existing political uncertainty on the future of European project, Moldavians, as well as Ukrainians or Georgians, will require a kind of blockchain strategy to regroup their EU accession strategy. For this to happen, one needs to understand the EU legislation much better and here the EU clusters of legislation may be of help.

In the new EU methodology proposed to the Western Balkan countries, the EU negotiating chapters were organised into the six EU acquis clusters: 1. Fundamentals, containing the fundamental rights and freedoms, judiciary, justice and home affairs, 2. Internal Market – the so-called ‘four freedoms’, competition policy, company law, intellectual property and consumers, 3. Competitiveness and Growth – industry policy, science and research, economic and monetary policy and employment, 4. Green Agenda – transport, energy, transeuropean networks and environment, 5. Natural and EU budgetary resources – agriculture, fisheries, veterinary requirements, EU structural funds and budget legislation and finally 6. External Relations – development policy, humanitarian aid, foreign and security policy, including the European neighbourhood policy.

Over the years, the relative size of EU clusters remained more or less the same (table 1). For example, the EU cluster of Internal Market in the period from 1995 to 2021 remained relatively stable at around 23 to 24 percent of EU legislation. This is quite an important piece of legislation, which has many spillovers to remaining areas. Similarly, the share of the Green Agenda in EU legislation remained relatively steady at around 11-12 percent, which may indicate that environmental legislation will have a similar trend in the future as well.

On the other hand, a regressive trend could be observed in a steep reduction of the Natural Resources cluster, which has dropped from 25 percent in 1995 to 14 percent in 2021. This may be explained by the fact that the EU regulators were relying less on natural and more on industrial sectors of EU economy, which has become more diverse over the time.

The industrial trend may be also reflected in a relative growth of EU cluster for Competitiveness and Growth, which has increased from 11 to 15 percent over the same period. It may be also due to a combination of factors, such the growth of red tape or regulatory spillover to the emerging industries. Similarly, we do also observe an increasing share of the External Relations legislation, rising from 25 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2021. This may be explained by the globalisation trend and its effect on the EU.

Finally, the EU Fundamentals cluster has remained relatively small over the same period and stood at the levels of 3 to 5 percent. This, however, does not undermine the importance of the rule of law or the basic rights and fundamental freedoms. On the contrary, this cluster has a relatively higher than average regulatory impact. One would expect its share and influence will increase in the years to come, as the EU will have to stay resilient to global risks, which are challenging the basic freedoms, even the future of democracy.

The EU cluster approach as explained above may be a useful tool to define the ‘everything but institutions’ model, which belongs to the formula suggested by Romano Prodi in 2002. Why? Because this model might be one of the recipes to sort out the dilemma of EU enlargement and to put in block the intermediate stages for the EU applicants to implement an increasing load of EU requirements.

This is particularly true to our observation that the EU institutions for the time being remain unable to propose a credible perspective to motivate EU candidate countries on their road of European integration reforms. The cluster-based formula, if used prudently, could mark a new beginning for the next generation of EU enlargement policies.

For example, we may suggest that Prodi formula might be adjusted by excluding not only the institutions, but also the external policies, because many decisions on the latter in the EU are taken still by the unanimity. We know that institutions correspond to 1 to 2 percent and the External policies to nearly 30 per cent of EU legislation. This leaves us with a model that contains 70 percent and as such could be more attractive than, for example, the ‘four freedoms’ or ‘sectoral integration’ alternatively proposed by some experts and politicians.

The ‘four freedoms’ may be a founding piece of the EU, but nevertheless today it represents only 11 to 15 percent of EU legislation. The ‘sectoral integration’ on the other hand, lacks the scope and focus, which might further fragment or even disintegrate the EU integration effort.

This proves that the Prodi formula can be of a good use as the next intermediate EU integration step, which would help to keep the concentration and be more attractive in working with EU policy clusters, ultimately adding up to the European Economic Area. This as a target would be much more motivating than an abstractive ‘sectoral integration’.

For the Prodi formula to remain at an attractive level of 70 percent, one has to include, next to the Internal Market, the rest of EU policy clusters, such as Fundamentals, Growth, Green Agenda, Natural and EU budgetary resources on board and group them into a new model, which we may describe as the EU Atrium model1. The next step could be to calibrate it with EU competencies, conditionality links, decision-making procedures and the size of EU budget spent on common policies, the modalities of which deserve a separate analysis.

In conclusion, this type of EU cluster modelling can help the EU machinery to bring the next wave of EU enlargements much closer than we could anticipate. It may also resonate well with the forth wave of global democratisation and so give a chance to the EU to become a truly geopolitical power.

1Atrium: the central room of a Roman house

Table 1. The evolution of EU legislation from 1995 to 2021*

*Data repository of the Publications Office of the EU

One response to “Clusters of EU legislation offer new opportunities for the next generation of EU enlargements

  1. Pingback: EaP Summit – Why the Trio initiative should finally find its way – EURACTIV.com - Chats Worth News·

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