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EU enlargement: Europe will “sail the high seas”

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The recently published report by the Franco-German working group As the EU institutional reform shows, the EU’s goal should be to prepare for enlargement by 2030, which includes a series of reforms to the work of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission.

The working group’s report, entitled “Sailing the high seas: reforming and enlarging the EU for the 21st century» was published by Politico, based in Brussels.

Candidate countries should meet the political criteria for membership, including resolving territorial conflicts and aligning with EU foreign policy, and there should be no fast-track procedure.

The expert working group that produced the report was launched in January to make recommendations for EU institutional reforms. It was initiated by the German Minister of State for Europe and Climate, Anna Lührmann, and the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Laurence Boone.

“It is important that governments decide to begin the process without further delay. Some reforms can be implemented in the short term without Treaty change initially from autumn 2023 and before the 2024 European elections. Reforms that require Treaty change should be addressed during the next institutional cycle (2024-29),” the experts recommended.

“To regain its credibility, the EU should set itself the objective of being ready for enlargement by 2030 and applicants for membership should strive to meet the EU membership criteria by this time. earliest accession date…The new political leadership after the 2024 European elections should fully commit to this goal and the reform process needed to achieve it,” the report says.

The second recommendation is to divide accession cycles into small groups of countries (a “regatta”) in full compliance with the merit-based approach and taking into account potential bilateral conflicts.

Candidate countries should also fully align with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, including its sanctions policy.

“For security and stability reasons, countries facing protracted military conflicts cannot join the EU. The same applies to countries having a territorial conflict with another candidate country or an EU member state,” the report also states.

Other principles of enlargement include equality – the rejection of a fast-track procedure for certain candidate countries – as well as the gradual integration of candidate countries into EU policies and reversibility if a country experiences a return back on the participation criteria.

According to the section of the report titled “Preparing the European institutions for enlargement”, the entry of up to 10 new member states will massively change the composition, make-up and decision-making processes of all institutions. Institutional reforms will therefore have to take place to prepare for EU enlargement.

The report recommends sticking to the limit of 751 MEPs or fewer in the European Parliament. Parliament’s budget forecasts for 2024 amounts to 2,383,401,312 EUR (sic!).

“Before the next enlargement, all remaining political decisions should move from unanimity to qualified majority. Furthermore, with the exception of the common foreign and security policy, this should be accompanied by full co-decision with the European Parliament,” the report proposes.

More specifically, with regard to enlargement, the report proposes that the validation of each negotiating chapter be transferred to qualified majority voting (QMV) to streamline the enlargement process, but that the final ratification of a accession treaty would remain unanimous.

As for the European Commission, experts do not see maintaining the “one member state, one commissioner” logic without formal hierarchy in an enlarged EU as an option.

In order to address the legitimate concerns of Member States regarding QMV and the protection of national interests as core state competences, the report proposes several ways to make QMV more acceptable, including by rebalancing the current QMV vote share , moving away from the current system of 55% of the votes. Member States representing 65% of the EU population.

According to the report, not all European states will be willing and/or able to join the EU in the near future and even some current member states may prefer softer forms of integration. Experts therefore recommend viewing the future of European integration as four distinct levels, each with a different balance of rights and obligations.

The inner circle would be made up of countries that wish to participate in deeper forms of integration. The second circle, the EU, would be made up of all current and future member states operating within the current competences of the Union.

A first external level – associate members – could make it possible to rationalize the different forms of association with EEA countries, Switzerland or even the United Kingdom, indicates the report. The main area of ​​participation would be the single market.

A second external tier would not include any form of integration with binding EU law or specific rule of law requirements and would not allow access to the single market. Instead, it would focus on geopolitical convergence and political cooperation in policy areas of mutual importance and relevance such as security, energy or environmental and climate policy, etc.

“The institutional foundations of the recently created European Political Community could be improved to enable more structured cooperation,” the report says.

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