EU enlargement and the OECD: A new era

Click to enlarge.

The formal accession to the European Union of 10 new member states on 1 May 2004 is a defining moment in the history of Europe. The Irish Presidency was honoured to welcome the accession states as full members of the Union and to celebrate together this great event with a “Day of Welcomes”. Enlargement on this scale, from 15 to 25 members, is unprecedented in the Union’s history.

(The largest previous single wave of new entrants, not counting the six founding members, was three, with Austria, Finland and Sweden joining in 1995, and Denmark, Ireland and the UK in 1973.) While it presents clear opportunities, it also presents challenges. We are working to facilitate a smooth transition, integrating the new member states fully and effectively into the structures of the Union. At the same time, there is a focus on extending and adapting existing programmes in all policy areas to the new member states. The necessary steps are being taken to integrate them as rapidly as possible into the Lisbon strategy for economic, social and environmental reform, the Schengen Acquis on free movement of people and the economic policy co-ordination process.

No organisation understands better the problem of helping member countries with greatly different standards of living to work together than the OECD. Assisting member countries to learn from shared experience is at the heart of the OECD’s activities. The peer pressure, the quality and extent of the analyses and reviews, have all contributed to improvements in economic performance and the strengthening of social cohesion. Indeed, those four new member states of the EU which are already members of the OECD – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Slovak Republic – have acknowledged the invaluable role the organisation has played in their preparations for EU accession, through both dedicated programmes and their participation in the wide-ranging activities of the OECD.

However, no EU members, old or new, have any illusions that all the hard work has been done. Delivering security and prosperity, continuing reform efforts, enhancing education systems and creating a cleaner environment are all daunting, ongoing policy goals. Globalisation presents new opportunities which can assist us in reaching those goals, but these opportunities can only be fully realised if the international community has the will to work together to establish accepted codes of behaviour. The relevance of the OECD in this context is widely recognised, and the organisation can make a real difference.

It has been gratifying to hear Ireland cited as an example of how to achieve economic and social progress. Obviously, the skills and adaptability of our greatest asset, our people, contributed hugely to the remarkable development of recent years. However, membership of the EU and the OECD was critical to our success. Through the OECD, Ireland, like all member countries large and small, has been able to identify areas where reform would make a real difference to performance, in labour markets, entrepreneurship, governance, public/private partnerships, and so on. The part played by the OECD in the evolution of the Irish education system, for instance, was an indispensable element of our growth.

EU expansion is a reminder that international organisations have to adapt in a world of rapid change. The OECD is demonstrating that it both recognises this and will act upon it, thanks in part to landmark reports by OECD Ambassadors Jorma Julin of Finland and Seiichiro Noboru of Japan on the critical areas of reform, enlargement and outreach to non-OECD countries. These studies will assist ministers at their Council meeting in May to take decisions on the future direction of the OECD based on a very clear common vision of where we are and where we must go.

In celebrating EU enlargement at this time, we also stand on the threshold of a new era in the evolution of the OECD. There is no lack of opportunities and challenges for us all.


Julin, J. (2003), “The OECD: Securing the Future”, in OECD Observer No 240/241, December 2003.

©OECD Observer No 243, May 2004

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2016?

Euro crisis
International conflict
Global warming

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2016