Up to 2004–2007, the implicit mental map upon which the EU’s ultimate borders were to be traced was actually an open secret, though not up for debate. It was taken for granted in Brussels and in most country capitals that the territorial expansion of the Union should continue until it covers the whole continent, bar Russia. But for this exception, in other words, the EU territory should eventually coincide with that of the Council of Europe, the only European institution to have explicitly defined its perimeter, back in 1994.

This scenario of maximum enlargement expresses the vision of an organised Europe nurtured by successive administrations in the US, and the continuity of America’s European project is indeed remarkable, from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, who, in this regard, confirmed in his Ankara address the stance previously taken by George W. Bush.

Two schools of enlargement

It is true that, viewed from Brussels, the prospect of accession has served as an effective lever in promoting reforms: adopting the acquis communautaire has a modernising effect comparable to that of the Napoleonic Civil Code. It is the key to the sway of institutionalised Europe, by dint of the financial resources and opportunities for the recognition of nations and promotion of elites that are offered by institutions governed by the principle of member state equality.

It is a factor in guaranteeing sovereignty and extending security, moreover, seeing as a country’s national interest requires that its neighbour join the same club, except in the East, and nationalist jingoism can be thereby contained (Hungary and Slovakia, Slovenia and Croatia, Greece and Turkey). But this method of Europeanisation is now coming up against the thorniness of the political situation that regrettably prevails in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. So the traditional method of enlargement can no longer be employed unchanged.

Though historically legitimate, the 2004 enlargement was carried out without any explicit political communication on the part of a number of leaders, without being put in historical and geopolitical perspective – in a word, like a story without words. That gave rise to doubts about the ends of the European process. Those doubts were accentuated by the institutional vagaries of 2005–2009, the snags that plagued the 2007 enlargement in the eastern Balkans, and the refusal to entertain any serious debate over the ultimate borders. And they paved the way for alternative scenarios to the US vision.

Actually, several different geopolitical representations of institutionalised Europe could be made out from the outset, but were not dug up again till 2004. If the political object is to create an entity grounded in an historical and geocultural unity that can be retrieved by surmounting national rivalries, Union membership is reserved for its inventors and nearby states that share the same values (legal and religious traditions), stabilising at 30-odd member states around France and Germany. This is the view advocated by movements of a Christian-Democratic persuasion and those brought together in the European People’s Party, but not by everyone: the Central European and Scandinavian MEPs wish to integrate the eastern borders. The central criterion is that of European identity, defined in terms of culture and values. By that yardstick, Turkey, a Muslim civil society, would be out of place here. But by no means can the question of the EU’s borders be confined to Turkey alone, with whom negotiations are, moreover, continuing.

If, on the other hand, the object is to methodically promote cooperation between various nations, whilst prioritising certain interests, enlargement need know no bounds but those on the western side of Russia. This is the view of liberals, of some social democrats attached to secularism and to the promotion of exemplary democratic Islamic forces, but also of Eurosceptics inclined toward a geoeconomic scenario and, as aforementioned, of Washington. British foreign minister David Miliband favours this approach, pushing it to the hilt when he describes a European area of interest eventually encompassing North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East (Bruges, 15 November 2007).

In the final analysis, the question of the “frontiers of Europe” cannot be addressed without answering the following points: what are the ultimate desirable boundaries of Europe in its institutionalised form as the European Union, i.e. what are the geopolitical western borders of Russia that would suit Europeans and what policies should be mapped out towards the Balkans, the Ukraine and Turkey? In the case of the western Balkans, which are fragmented, outside Croatia, into seven states and protectorates, the next negotiations will have to insist on a specific requirement: that they commit to resolving some 25 major bilateral disputes that divide them, ranging from war crimes brought before the International Court of Justice through serious issues of missing persons and returning refugees to economic, religious, diplomatic, customs and border disputes.

The EU still needs to work out a solid Turkish policy that is not confined to the institutional question of accession. It is indeed in Europe’s interest to forge a lasting geopolitical alliance with this Euro-Oriental regional power that will eventually be inside or out, but will always be there to reckon with. There is no sign that, at the end of the day, the Turkish elite will consent to the transfer of sovereign powers entailed in full membership. But they will not give up on their Europeanisation strategy, in spite of Europe.

The European geopolitical puzzle (Le Monde, Presseurop)

Knowing the contours of Europe

The border debate is not so much between the European Union and Turkey, which is in the process of Europeanisation and will be capable of integration in the long run anyway, as within the EU itself, over the ultimate aim of the European project: whether it is to be an integrated political union or a community of nation-states.

The renewal of EU policies regarding the continent and its boundaries will be the first matter in which the next High Representative for Foreign Affairs will have to take a clear-cut line: after all, how can one conduct affairs in the world without knowing the contours of the place one is talking about?