Poor Štefan Füle. On 12 October, the European Commissioner for Enlargement had the thankless task of presenting the annual report in Brussels on the nine countries – Croatia, Turkey, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo – that want to join the Union. The presentation was somewhat surreal, staged as if nothing serious was happening in the EU, as if everything was ticking over normally.

Štefan Fule is not what one might call a joker, which did not prevent him from declaring that the future of Europe is bright. See how successful the EU strategy is! Europe puts forwards its demands, and the countries that want to join become more democratic. 2011 was a good year for the expansion, Štefan Fule asserts. It’s a brave facade, for the Commissioner barely dares to believe it himself.

Iceland is best prepared

The less encouraging truth is, first of all, that several countries waiting outside the door of Europe have serious problems, and so the EU is unlikely to be able to grow much more. Certainly, the negotiations with Croatia have been completed, and the Commission proposes to welcome the country into the EU in 2013. Štefan Fule also believes that Serbia and Montenegro have made progress and so will be able to take some further steps on the long road to membership.

But negotiations with Turkey have been suspended, and the country seems to have headed in the wrong direction, like Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. It’s Iceland, which has already adopted large parts of European law, that seems most ready. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Icelanders will want to vote "yes" when the time comes to decide by referendum the question of accession.

Union cannot welcome more poor countries

Everyone knows, though, that the question of further enlargement does not concern merely the integration of candidate countries. It’s equally important to get a picture of how the 27 current members are doing. Can they overcome their difficulties, preserve their cohesion? Otherwise, how would the Union find the energy to welcome new countries, most of which are poor?

Štefan Füle has given assurances that the expansion will continue and that everything is "under control" in Brussels. At a time when the euro is wobbling, and with it the whole of the European Union, the European Commissioner is grooming the candidate countries with an undiminished enthusiasm. It’s a facade of self-assurance whose main effect is to deepen the sense of crisis.