The European Community was founded by six states that, with the exception of southern Italy, are situated within the relatively confined and homogenous socioeconomic space in north-western Europe. Since 1973 the EU has expanded dramatically to encompass a vastly larger population and geographical area. Following the enlargements of 2004, 2007, and 2013, the number of member states increased from 15 to 28 and included a much wider range of socioeconomic structures and political cultures than ‘the original six’. Whatever the current and fraught accession negotiations may bring, the prospective memberships of Turkey and Serbia will not diminish this reality. More generally, the striking growth of nationalism and Euroscepticism throughout the EU, generated by the Eurozone and migration crises, pose major obstacles to further enlargements. As the British referendum on ‘Brexit’ indicates, it is possible that one or more member states might withdraw from the EU, a process that was given a legal mechanism in the Lisbon Treaty. The successive enlargements have dramatically transformed the EU. The entry of the UK along with Ireland and Denmark in 1973 simultaneously raised the EU’s global profile while exposing it to greater American influence. The accession of Greece in 1981 followed by Portugal and Spain in 1986 helped to consolidate democratic transitions, but increased socioeconomic heterogeneity. The process of enlargement and expansion into Central and Eastern Europe that started in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that continues today in the form of European Partnerships, also greatly enhanced the EU’s global weight even as it further entrenched American power across the continent.
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