The EU enlargement engine seems to have run out of political steam. Support within the member states for future enlargement is at all-time low, while some of the candidate countries have also seemed to put the enlargement process on the backburner. However, at least rhetorically, the EU is still committed to the enlargement process and maintains its entire enlargement tool box, such as the Instrument for Pre-Accession (IPA) – one of the most important EU external financial instruments. The new IPA regulation (IPA II), adopted in March 2014, clearly reflects the fact that the enlargement process is on a holding pattern.
EU enlargement has often been described as the EU’s most successful foreign policy ever, as it has proved to be a highly efficient way for the EU to export its norms and values. However, if one believes that financial allocations are a good indicator for measuring the enthusiasm of the EU towards a certain policy, it clearly appears that the focus of the EU has been shifted further east and south, to the countries of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) for which no accession perspective is on the table. This is understandable, given that the Arab uprisings and Russia’s flexing of muscles have brought the EU’s neighbourhood policy back to the centre of attention.
But comparing numbers alone gives only a vague indication about shifting priorities in
the EU’s policy agenda. A loss of momentum of enlargement policy appears rather en filigrane when analysing the text of the new IPA regulation (IPA II) which replaces a
2006 Council regulation covering the period 2007-2013. In order to better appreciate the differences, we must first take a look at the previous instrument (IPA I) and its underpinning logic.