After the European Union enlarged to the east in 2004, a sense of enlargement fatigue has pervaded the Union, and there would seem to be concerted resistance towards further enlargement. This sense of fatigue is encompassed by the new buzz word in EU discourse; absorption capacity. Yet the concept has remained an unclear one, and there have been subsequent calls for a clarification of the term. Following from this, the aim of this thesis is to explain and understand, define and clarify the resurgence of the term absorption capacity.
At the core of the concept, it is argued, lie strong concerns over the legitimacy and the effectiveness of the EU, which in turn have shaped the sense of fatigue and leading to the emergence of the term absorption capacity. As such, the methodology employed is that of a qualitative case study. The nature of the investigation is threefold. Firstly, a historical analysis of European enlargement is offered, suggesting that the problem of absorption capacity came to the fore only after the prospect of the Eastern enlargement of 2004. Secondly, the emergence of absorption capacity is discussed, and the clarification and definitions that followed. Thirdly, a conceptual analysis of absorption capacity and its core features legitimacy and effectiveness is offered. The hypotheses generated here will then be tentatively assessed empirically by using Eurobarometer surveys and the Internal Market Scoreboard, in an attempt to discover what the current absorption capacity of the EU is. It is suggested in conclusion that concerns over legitimacy lie at the heart of the emergence of absorption capacity, but that the term would in many respects seem to misunderstand the nature of the EU.