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At a summit last weekend in Copenhagen, the European Union reached a historic agreement to add 10 new members. Expansion will nearly double the size of the union, but it only underscores a long-standing question: What is the ultimate goal of the EU? There is, as yet, no convincing answer.

The EU began enlargement negotiations with six countries four years ago; the number of potential applicants doubled a year later. They are Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. According to the agreement in Copenhagen, 10 of the countries are scheduled to join by May 1, 2004; Bulgaria and Romania would enter a few years later.

The key sticking point in entry negotiations was, as usual, money. All of the applicants are less developed than existing EU members — some considerably so. Entry would constitute a financial burden on EU coffers. Poorer EU states worried that the new members would take funds that had previously been theirs. Accession entails considerable costs for new members as they adopt measures that bring them into compliance with EU norms. Their businesses are also likely to be less competitive in the single market. Last-minute negotiations endorsed extra funds for the new members and some front-loaded long-term assistance to cut the burden on the EU governments.

Turkey posed another problem. Ankara has long wanted to join the EU, but members worried openly about Turkey’s commitment to democracy and economic reform. Sotto voce, they asked whether the Union could absorb a Muslim country without being fundamentally changed. To demonstrate its commitment to reform, Turkey’s Parliament abolished the death penalty and allowed Kurdish language courses and broadcasting, two of the Union’s demands. But the EU wants more, calling on Turkey to eliminate torture, expand freedom of expression and stabilize its economy. Last weekend, the EU and Turkey agreed that progress in these fields by December 2004 would lead to the start of negotiations for membership.

While Turks were disappointed that negotiations would not begin immediately, the agreement to proceed “without delay” after passing the review was a triumph; the original draft included no time frame. Declaring victory, Turkey then agreed to another key provision of last week’s meeting: It accepted arrangements for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to assist in the EU’s new military crisis-management force. Turkey, a NATO member, had vetoed any use of NATO assets such as heavy transport planes, command and control facilities and satellite intelligence-gathering that the EU needed to realize the force (which will be used primarily for peacekeeping operations and could begin operations within weeks.)

The deal with Ankara also smoothed another wrinkle: Cyprus’ membership in the EU. Turkey agreed to pressure the Turkish Cypriot administration on the island into accepting a U.N. reunification plan for Cyprus by Feb. 28. A peace deal would allow Cyprus to join the EU in 2004 as a reunited island.

The interlocking of issues surrounding Turkey’s bid for membership illustrates the chief issue of EU “enlargement”: how decisions will be made when membership is expanded. Europe has debated “widening” (enlargement) vs. “deepening” (greater power for Union decision-makers) for decades. The two options have been viewed as mutually exclusive. Indeed, governments concerned about giving Eurocrats too much power have argued for expansion as a way of blocking the centralization of authority in Brussels. It was assumed that 25 nations would not be able to agree on surrendering sovereignty. To prove that assumption wrong, the EU began a constitutional convention in February to work out a road map for the future. Last week’s results suggest that cynicism may be misplaced.

Still, EU membership does not mean that 25 governments can agree on a common purpose. Many of the prospective new members seek to join for economic benefits, or to mark a break with their past association with the Soviet bloc and its authoritarianism. It is reasonable to ask whether they are willing to give up some of the power that they have only recently won back after the Soviet interlude. For that matter, many current EU governments do not seem especially keen to continue the march toward federalism either.

When the European Community was launched, integration was driven by functionalism: the need to get certain tasks accomplished. Those jobs have been done. If the process is to continue, there must be a shared vision of Europe — and a will to see it realized. A readiness to join the EU does not mean there is agreement on what that membership means. Last week’s success makes agreement more pressing, however.

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