Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2008

A Hole in the Wall? Dimensionalism and the EU's "New Neighbourhood Policy"

June 2003

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


The successive rounds of enlargements are a factor shaping the European Union. The previous enlargements have all resulted in the broadening of the EU’s agenda, changes in the institutions and decision-making, as well as shaping the way in which the world external to the Union has perceived the European integration and its different manifestations, be they institutions or policies. There is dialectic at work, where the “shadow of enlargement” forces the European Union and its member states to adapt its own dynamic to meet the changing circumstances. This adaptation – together with the growing geographic exposure to new neighbours and regions – in turn create an opening and a demand for further enlargements, which then start the dialectic anew.

This dialectic applies also in the EU’s external relations. The point of contact where this is felt most urgently is, of course, at the current – and with the advent of the “Big Bang” enlargement in 2004 already in sight – at the future outer boundaries of the European Union. The countries emerging at the outskirts of the enlarging Union (the “new neighbours”) are always also potential future members. The logic of an empire is partly at work here. But the EU is a reluctant empire, ever aware of the dangers posed by the entry of newcomers into the club. Nevertheless the new neighbours require a response from the Union. This calls for new relationships and policies on the part of the EU. In the past they have varied from treating the new neighbours as potential EU candidates and engaging with them through the accession process, to offering different “partnerships” which have often been spiced with the element of a prospective free trade area with the European Union.