Enlargement without Membership Perspectives?

A theoretical approach on the reasons for participating in the European Neighbourhood Policy

Academic Paper, 2018
14 Pages, Grade: 7,5 (Niederländisches System)



The significance of the Eastern European area for the European Union has become visible with the Eastern enlargement in 2004.

Ever since then the question remains how to interact with the bordering neighbor countries. This paper aims to examine the European Neighbourhood Policy from a rationalist-constructivist perspective. Furthermore, parallels between the decision-making process for the Eastern enlargement will be drawn by paying special attention to Frank Schimmelfennig's contributions to the issue. I conclude that despite the absence of accession talks, a potential future accession perspective displays the highest incentive for Eastern neighbors to participate in the ENP and that there is a possibility for renegotiating accession by making use of rhetorical action.

keywords: European Neighbourhood Policy; Eastern Enlargement; European Union; Rationalist Institutionalism; Sociological Institutionalism; Rhetorical Action


In the past two decades one event has shaped the studies on European Integration like no other - the 2004's Eastern enlargement of the European Union. A first extensive attempt to explain the reasons for the enlargement from a theoretical perspective was made in 2003 - one year before the actual enlargement - by Frank Schimmelfennig. In his book The EU, NATO and the integration of Europe - Rules and Rhetoric Schimmelfennig aims to explain why the two depicted institutions and the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) decided in favor of the enlargement and how they arrived at that decision. Almost contemporaneously, the European Neighbourhood Policy - a policy project aiming to cooperate with those countries with direct borders to the member-states- was established. The essential difference between the two policy processes was the fact that states participating in the ENP do not have any perspectives on EU membership. Based on the assumption that becoming a member of the European Union constitutes the most desirable condition of the participating countries, this factor raises the question why these countries decided to take part in the ENP. In line with Schimmelfennig's analysis of Eastern enlargement, this paper examines the reasons for Eastern European countries to participate in the ENP and envisions future possibilities from a theoretical perspective. Hence, I agree with Schimmelfennig on the importance of theories in order to understand, explain and stimulate the process of European integration. In other words, '[t]heory remains essential for diagnosing events, explaining their causes, prescribing responses, and evaluating the impact of different policies' (Walt in Gstöhl 2017, p.4). Furthermore, I will refer to Schimmelfennig's conceptualization of rationalist institutionalism, sociological institutioalism and rhetoric action in order to examine the implications the ENP has for each of the participating actors. As indicated, the paper will mainly refer to assumptions made by Schimmelfennig in his book The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe - Rules and Rhetoric. Additional literature include other related contributions by Schimmelfennig as well as various authors aiming to theorize the ENP.

My main argument is that in the long run it will not be possible for the European Union to withhold accession perspectives from the Eastern European participant countries. This is based on the assumptions made by Schimmelfennig concerning the relevance of rhetorical action within the hybrid rationalist-constructivist ambit, which enables individual member states to shame skeptics into compliance. Based on my findings, I assume that either the Eastern neighbor countries - together with individual member-states - will use rhetoric action in order to enforce accession talks or that the Eastern neighbors might shift away from the European Union in the long run.

These considerations are highly relevant for various reasons. First, a number of conflicts has arisen within the past years in the depicted countries. This does not only have a impact on the country itself but also on its neighbors, thus, European member-states. Second, geographically, these countries are located in between three powerful political poles - the EU, Russia and Asia. Third, EU enlargement processes have significantly decreased after 2004. This raises questions on how the further development of the EU will look like.

The following paper, will first give a brief overview on the main findings of the depicted book by Schimmelfennig and on the main principles of the European Neighbourhood Policy. In the main section, I aim to answer the following questions: why did the EU and the Eastern neighbor countries agreed on the ENP? What aspects are especially beneficial for the EU which for the neighbor countries? Which aspects are contradictory? What might be the development of the ENP in the future? In order to do so, I examine the ENP both from a rationalist and a constructivist viewpoint. In a second step I elaborate on the implications the findings can have on the future development of the policy.

Rationalist, sociological institutioalism or both?

Summary of The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe - Rules and Rhetoric

The book The EU, NATO and the integration of Europe - Rules and Rhetoric by Frank Schimmelfennig served as a starting point for this paper. It engages with the Eastern enlargement of NATO and the EU in 2004 as the biggest project in shaping the "New Europe” (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 3). Schimmelfennig's point of departure is based on the institutionalist assumputions. According to the author,

Europe has increasingly come to be defined by these organizations [EU, NATO, CoE], the 'Europeanization' [...] of individual countries has come to be measured by the intensity of institutional relations with these organizations and by the adoption of their organizational values and norms. (Schimmelfennig 2003, p.1)

In this respect, the book aims to explain the issue of enlargement from a theoretical institutionalist viewpoint. This is because examining enlargement by making use of theories of international institutions and regional integration has been largely ignored in previous research due to Schimmelfennig (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 2). Therefore, the central research questions of the book include: Why did the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) want to become NATO and EU members? Why did both organizations decide to expand to Central and Eastern Europe? How did they arrive at these decisions? What accounts for their selection of new members among the CEECs (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 3)?

In order to answer these questions, the author puts forward two main arguments. First, "constitutive liberal rules of the Western international community [...] are the most important explanatory factors for Eastern enlargement” and second, these community rules have an impact on enlargement by rhetoric rather than the logic of appropriateness (ibid.). Thus, Schimmelfennig's approach considers both rationalist and sociological institutionalism as essential for explaining enlargement. Therefore, the theories are used partially complementary and partially competing in the analysis (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 11).

To substantiate his arguments, the authors examines NATO's and the EU's decision for Eastern enlargement as case studies as part of a problem-driven research. In a second step a process analysis is conducted on NATO's and the EU's decision-making process concerning the enlargement process (Schimmelfennig 2003, pp. 14-16).

What is special about Schimmelfennig's analysis is his threefold way of increasing leverage as defined by Keohane, King and Verba.1 First, he considers two organizations - NATO and the EU - instead of only one. Second, a third organization - the Council of Europe (CoE) - is considered. Moreover, the whole time span between coming into being and the present of each organization is investigated. In addition to that, Schimmelfennig's analysis is neither limited to particular countries but includes all European states, nor exclusive to the enlargement itself but extends its focus by considering all international encounters of the organization with the "outside countries.” Third, the author increased leverage by analyzing causal processes which add particular value to otherwise correlational implications (Schimmelfennig 2003, pp. 12-14).

Schimmelfennig's key findings illuminate the complementary link between rationalist and sociological institutionalism. More specifically, material self-interest and power differentials shaped the early process of enlargement but ultimately fail to explain NATO's and the EU's decision for the enlargement. Hence, CEECs have had an interest in joining the organizations in order to stabilize their neighborhood and to create favorable conditions for economic exchange, as well as to increase security (especially towards Russia) and welfare. At the same time, rationalism falls short in giving reasons for the organizations' benefits of enlargement (Schimmelfennig 2003, pp. 64-65). Concerning material self-interest, there were heavy concerns about the effects of enlargement on the efficiency of each organization. Thus, it was feared that while increasing the welfare of the CEECs, it could potentially decrease the overall welfare of the organization and thus its member- states (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 60). Moreover, the prevailing power differentials did not favor enlargement since the superior bargaining power belongs to each of the two organizations and could have been executed during the CEECs prior status as Partners for Peace (PfP, NATO) and association (EU) (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 50). Therefore, rationalist assumptions serve sufficiently to explain the CEECs' interest in joining NATO and the EU but are insufficient in explaining the organization's interest in the Eastern enlargement (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 63-64). Instead, Schimmelfennig shows that sociological institutionalism provides a more promising approach in explaining the member-states' decision for enlargement. This is because it stresses the significance of shared values and norms in shaping a common liberal community identity on which both organizations are build upon (Schimmelfennig 2003, pp. 70, 77). From a sociological institutional perspective, NATO and EU are characterized as community organizations with a community culture which is based on a shared postnational identity of liberal Western values. The justification for entering such a community organization is thus defined by successful internalization of these values. The analysis by Schimmelfennig proves the relevance of this assumption by giving evidence that NATO and EU admitted the most successfully "socialized” CEECs (Schimmelfennig 2003, p.77). However, as the author shows, the actual observations within the process deviate strongly from solely sociological-institutionalist expectations (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 191). Instead, he proves that the decision was mainly based on egoistic benefits of individual states. Hence,

the distribution of states' preferences mirrored the varying degree of interdependence with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and interdependence varied mainly with geographical proximity. (Schimmelfennig 2003, p.281)

In order to achieve the most beneficial situation for themselves, the states that preferred the enlargement instrumentalized the sociological-institutionalist assumption on the significance on a community identity. Practically, they shamed reluctant member-states for acting inconsistently and for betraying the norms and values to which they had committed themselves in the past. Accordingly, disagreement to the enlargement was considered to threaten the very existence of the organizations (Schimmelfennig 2003, pp. 222ff). This process describes what Schimmelfennig conceptualizes as rhetorical action. Thus, "eastern enlargement was the result of social construction on the basis of intersubjective ideas but the construction was done by strategic actors using these ideas instrumentally for their selfish purposes" (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 283). In other words, the enlargement decision-making process can be seen as the strategic conception of rules and norms and the mechanisms of rhetorical action in order to achieve potential benefits for individual actors. This, then, suggests a rationalist-constructivist synthesis on the issue, that works by sequencing the theoretical explanations or how Schimmelfennig coins it a "hybrid environment-agency link” (Schimmelfennig 2003, p. 284; Spero 2005, p.413).

What was of special interest back in 2003 was that Schimmelfennig started his analysis from a viewpoint that was not yet addressed in the context of enlargement. This holds true for his theoretical analysis on dual enlargement processes and the new empirical data that was provided in the book (Hyde-Price 2005, p. 447). Moreover, Schimmelfennig developed the concept of rhetorical action and by that challenges more conventional theoretical assumptions. Critics acknowledged Schimmelfennig's work as important for understanding the challenges of enlargement (Mariani 2004, Spero 2005) and according to Spero,

the analysis [of the book] provides scholars and policy-makers with an essential theoretical and historical baseline for better deciphering institutional decision making, particularly when considering expansion's significant net material disadvantages. (Spero 2005, p. 413)


1 Maximizing leverage as defined by Keohane, King and Verba focuses on “explaining as much as possible with as little as possible” and thus suggests a thorough but systematic modus operanti for problem-driven research. Accordingly, “the primary way is to increase the number of observable implications of our hypothesis and seek confirmation of those implications.” (Keohane, King and Verba in Schimmelfennig 2003, p.9)

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Enlargement without Membership Perspectives?
A theoretical approach on the reasons for participating in the European Neighbourhood Policy
University of Groningen
Capita European Integration
7,5 (Niederländisches System)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
European Neighbourhood Policy, ENP, Schimmelfennig, Eastern Enlargement, Rationalist Institutionalism, Sociological institutionalism, European Union, Rhetorical Action
Quote paper
Elena Mertel (Author), 2018, Enlargement without Membership Perspectives?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/498130


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