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15 years since the Fifth Enlargement – how coherent is Europe?

On 22nd November Mr. Matti Maasikas, Undersecretary of European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estonia held a public lecture at the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade at an event titled “15 years since the Fifth Enlargement – how coherent is Europe?”

Mr. Maasikas talked about the atmosphere of the 2004 enlargement process and the difficulty of ten Central and Eastern European countries joining the European Union with different political experiences. When Estonia joined, they surprisingly found themselves in a friendly environment and never expected something bad happening, what could undermine the country’s interests. Change has always meant better options for Estonians – like joining the EU, NATO or the Euro zone. He emphasised that the fifth enlargement brought more diversity in the European Union than the previous ones.

Besides the aspects of the fifth enlargement, Mr. Maasikas talked about the current issues of the European Union. He highlighted the importance of the effect of several crises like the eurozone crisis, the Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014, migration, the discussion on the new Multiannual Financial Framework and the Article 7 procedure. Although quite a lot of things happened in the areas of border security, and dealing with external countries, the EU should find a compromise on managing migration. The make the single market stronger, the Union should help Central and Eastern European countries to be more competitive and have more economic advantages. In his opinion, since the eurozone crisis the EU should concentrate on preserving its achievements, then taking them further. However, on some areas, like the digital single market and protection of intellectual property, the EU need to catch up. He emphasised that for the neighbouring countries the enlargement is still a huge attraction and in the current enlargement procedure the Western Balkan countries have the European perspective, still neither of them is close enough to join in the EU 1 or 3 years’ time.

Answering questions from the audience, Mr. Maasikas expressed the strong cooperation between the Nordic and the Baltic countries within the European Union, while emphasising the importance of dedicating Estonia not only to one group of countries. About Estonia’s strength and weakness within the EU, he told the audience, that they are the biggest supporters of the euro and that a very low percentage of voters think their voice is actually heard in the EU discussions. He also touched upon the topic of Brexit, regarding its shocking effect and financial consequences.