VIENNA – The time has come for Brussels policymakers to embark on a bold reform of EU enlargement policy to put it on a more effective and sustainable path, recommends a policy brief titled “From EU “weariness” to “enthusiasm for enlargement”», published within the WB2EU network.
The authors highlight that Eurobarometer trends reveal a “critical moment” in EU enlargement policy and have recorded an unprecedented number of European citizens in favor of further EU enlargements.
“Long-term unfavorable trends towards admitting new members have been reversed, with more EU citizens now in favor than against. In the same way, while the 2004 enlargement was formulated through the identity argument with the aim of reunifying Europe after the end of the Cold War, the current war in Ukraine has changed public opinion public on the Balkans and the countries of the Eastern Neighborhood, which are recognized as ‘one of us’ by the European international community”, states the Policy Brief.
According to the Policy Brief, it is of the utmost importance to keep public opinion in mind, because mass attitudes, through their influence on political behavior, play a crucial role in influencing public policy. enlargement of the EU.
The authors emphasize that understanding the links between public opinion and EU enlargement, as well as reforms in the EU in general, is essential for assessing the EU’s integration capacity.
“Past experiences suggest that opinions on EU enlargement, both among the general public and among political elites, are very volatile and that the current consensus on enlargement could erode quite quickly. Therefore, this window of opportunity for EU enlargement policy reforms could soon close if not used in the right way,” the authors recommend.
It is explained that EU enlargements were for a long time largely ignored by European public opinion. This lack of interest, according to the authors, is the cause of Europeans’ lack of knowledge about EC/EU policymaking in general and about enlargement policy in particular, as well as a lack of understanding of the importance of the latter for the future of the EU. a political system.
“At the same time, EU citizens have been marginally involved in public debates on enlargement, while the admission of new members has never been subject to referendum in EU member states – which could have reduced public interest in this issue compared to others. themes linked to European integration and directly submitted to national campaigns,” write the authors.
They believe that the return of war to Europe and the resulting applications for membership by Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Kosovo represent dramatic turning points in recent European history, which have highlighted highlight EU enlargement policy as a key tool for pursuing peace and democracy. and prosperity throughout Europe.
“The fact that European political elites responded positively to third country demands for integration demonstrates a positive momentum and new dynamism in this policy. Indeed, the European Council almost immediately granted candidate country status to Ukraine and Moldova in June 2022 and opened accession prospects to Georgia. Shortly afterwards, it also opened accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, then granted EU candidate status to Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 2022,” recalls the Policy Brief.
They emphasize, however, that the central question is not simply how long this dynamic could persist.
“The crucial question here is what kind of enlargement policy could emerge from a war and what characteristics it should have to overcome the significant shortcomings that have emerged so far in the EU accession of the Western Balkans and who were on the right track. from post-conflict reconstruction to EU membership for more than 20 years,” says a Policy Brief published within the WB2EU network.
The authors conclude that the crucial issue today for the “European bureaucracy” is to provide concrete proposals to convert this consensus among the general public and political elites into concrete policies that will be more effective, more adapted and more sustainable than those of the pass.
The Policy Brief is published as part of the WB2EU project. The project aims to establish a network of renowned think tanks, working groups, universities, higher education institutes and policy centers from the Western Balkans, neighboring countries and EU Member States that will be the most decisive for the process of enlargement and Europeanization of the European Union. the region in the years to come. The WB2EU project is co-financed by the European Commission as part of its Erasmus+ Jean Monnet programme.