With Bulgaria and Romania set to join the European Union in January, there is a great deal of discussion about the EU’s “absorption capacity.” But a new survey by Burson-Marsteller suggests that most EU insiders view the actual absorption of the 10 new members into EU policies and process since the “Big Bang” of May 2004 as “a great success.”

That’s the main conclusion of “Big Bang, Smaller Shocks,” a new report based on interviews with more than 50 senior EU officials, diplomats and politicians, and business and NGO representatives.

The report, while noting “occasional turbulence” in relationships between the old EU15 and the new EU10 entrants, concludes that, in terms of EU policy-making and institutional mechanics, the “overall effect has been one of controlled absorption and mutual adjustment”.

This outcome differs sharply from ominous predictions made in a pre-2004 report conducted on a similar basis (Enlargement 2004: Big Bang and Aftershocks). Among the fears raised at the time were the inability of the EU10 to meet single market rules; a food safety crisis leading to regular use of safeguard measures against sub-standard food from the east; and institutional gridlock of decision-making on an EU25 basis.

By contrast, the findings of the present report include:
• The new EU10 are better at transposing EU market rules than EU15. The new members’ transposition deficit is 1.5 percent compared to 2.2 percent for the EU15. Safeguard measures have not been invoked.
• The EU10, whose growth rates systematically outstrip the EU15’s, have added their collective weight to support of the effective pursuit of the Lisbon agenda, altering the balance of forces in the EU’s discussions on virtually its whole economic and social agenda.
• The accession of the EU10, where small and medium sized enterptises play a predominant role, has probably contributed to a diminishing priority given by the EU to environment policy but has not caused it.  Indeed, compliance with EU environment law is higher in the EU10 than among the EU15.
• The EU10’s greatest direct impact on policy has arguably been on the conduct of EU external relations. Unlike in other policy areas, the influx of experienced politicians and diplomats from east and central Europe has created significant value-added, particularly in relations with Russia and Ukraine.

“The Big Bang has had a big impact on business and lobbying,” says Jeremy Galbraith, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Brussels. “The much more complex EU25 requires extra time and resources and makes earlier engagement in the EU process all the more important.”