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Várhelyi addresses General Affairs Ministers in Murcia

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Dear José Manuel,

I am very happy to be here today with you. And I want to thank the Spanish Presidency for holding the first serious and in-depth discussion on how we are going to achieve accession and how we are going to bring new member states to the European Union. I think that was the main topic of the day. And when we talked about it, I think I could keep repeating the same old phrases. But now they are gaining ground, they are gaining the sense that for EU leaders enlargement is one of the top three priorities and that the value of EU membership has never been higher higher than today.

We saw an immediate reaction, if you like, a reflex on the part of the three countries when this war of aggression by Russia broke out. Let them consider that their long-term peace, stability and prosperity will be better guaranteed by EU membership. This also means that Europe will also have to think about the value of EU membership, and that is why I am very happy that we are drawing these conclusions. And we are not just drawing conclusions that we must achieve enlargement, but we are now taking action.

Take action by creating the possibility of enlargement for candidate countries, but also by launching our internal debate on how to achieve enlargement within the European Union. Because, as you have noted, this Commission has always, from the start of its mandate, argued coherently, credibly and reliably in favor of enlargement. And now this change in the geopolitics around us also demonstrates to us that the long-term peace, stability and security of the European Union will largely depend on the success of enlargement and the presence and reception new members from our immediate neighborhood within the European Union. .

Of course, as also confirmed today, this enlargement remains a merit-based process. Merit-based, which means that our candidate countries and partners must also meet all the criteria to become members. These are very well-known criteria since Copenhagen, a set of criteria which also ensure the credibility of the members. And that is why today we are not only confirmed, but we have also started to discuss how we could help candidate countries accelerate the implementation of reforms. And we started looking for ways to speed up the process.

We have seen the subjects that were raised by the minister. We have witnessed very interesting debates on institutional reforms, on progressive integration, and we have also seen the very concrete actions that we can undertake. You have seen that we are arriving with the new enlargement package which is imminent. In a few weeks you will see us presenting a new way of thinking about enlargement and the package which will now include 10 candidate countries or countries with a European perspective. And in this report, we not only want to move forward, but also provide the means for accelerated integration. And this will be our growth plan for the Western Balkans, which should be based on four pillars.

First, promote and create incentives to strengthen socio-economic reforms to stimulate growth and thus accelerate the region’s accession process. Secondly, we want to create the possibility to gradually integrate these countries already present into the single market within the framework of the four freedoms, if you already do this before accession. Because this will benefit both the European Union and the candidate countries. The third pillar of this work would be to also strengthen our work on reforms on the rule of law and democracy; because, of course, the credibility of the process is exploited by the notion that the fundamentals are at the heart of the enlargement process. And 4thwe want to provide the necessary tools to bridge the economic and social gap well before accession through a reinforced contribution from Europe and a financial contribution from Europe to accelerate all the reform efforts that these countries are deploying.

We are convinced that we will thus be able to provide us with a new tool, a new tool with which the European Union will be able to demonstrate that it is ready to welcome new Member States. It is ready to create the conditions conducive to welcoming new members and it is now up to the candidate countries to fully exploit these opportunities.

We had the first debate on our internal discussions on the need for a complete reform of our institutions. And if so, what should our strategy be? I think that from today the conclusion we draw as a Commission is that there is no need to amend the Treaty to accommodate new Member States. It is also very clear that the internal debate can go hand in hand and in parallel with the accession process. We are convinced that both processes can be managed in parallel. And we are convinced that these two procedures must be concluded in the short term.

A word perhaps on the open strategic autonomy of the EU. We very much praised the report that we saw from the Spanish presidency: a resilient Europe by 2030. I think that we respect it with regard to the priorities put forward by the presidency and by our own strategic foresight report. Because I think we have agreed on the main priorities that also await us regarding the next strategic agenda of the European Union. It is also very clear that many results have been achieved since the Versailles Declaration. We have also summarized this in our own communication, but now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We must continue. We must redouble our efforts to make Europe more resilient, more competitive, a more sustainable economy and ensure that our citizens benefit from the European social market economy that we have created across Europe.

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