REVIEW #20: EU Accession and the Euro: Unfinished Business

The year 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the largest EU enlargement since its inception, especially when paired with its extension less than three years later covering Romania and Bulgaria. Thus, 2004 was a historical moment that welcomed Central Europe back after an era of Soviet yoke. The accession required great effort from all parties involved and, despite many obstacles, it was deemed a success. Yet, integration remains incomplete with respect to membership in the Schengen Zone and Euro Area.

The former was remedied on March 31, 2023, with Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen zone. However, it is crucial to examine the current state of accession to the eurozone of CEE countries that have not done it yet despite obligations, as well as the debate concerning its pros and cons.



The CEE countries that joined the EU varied with respect to the size of their economy and the level of development. By sheer size, Poland dominated the list with a GDP slightly larger than the next two (Czechia and Hungary) combined. The second group consists of countries with medium-sized economies: Czechia, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. The final group comprised small economies: Slovenia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

The economic development as measured by GDP per capita is, however, quite different. With Slovenia firmly in the lead (over USD 17k), there was a tight pack of neighbors behind it: Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary (between USD 10k to USD 12k), then Baltic states and Poland (between USD 6k and USD9k), with Romania and Bulgaria closing the list with less than USD 3.5k.

This division holds to a degree today. Poland put an even larger gap between itself and the runner-up in terms of size, while the Baltics and Czechia managed to increase their GDP per capita significantly. At the same time, Hungary is migrating towards the group of smaller and poorer economies, with Romania slowly taking its place.


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