An informal meeting of ministers on general issues and EU cohesion policy is underway in Spain. The main theme of the meeting is internal preparation for the possible expansion of the European Union to 36 member states. In addition, it is planned to discuss strengthening support for candidate countries.
In January, Laurence Boone, French Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Anna Lührmann, German Minister of State for Europe and Climate, mandated a group of 12 independent French and German experts to work on a institutional reform plan. with a view to the enlargement of the Union, declared Zenon Kowal, political advisor to the Association of Ukrainians in Belgium and special advisor to the Ukrainian embassy in Belgium (1992-1995). The expert group presented its report to the Council of Ministers on September 19.
“Currently, the European Union has 27 members; negotiations are underway on the accession of Ukraine, possibly Georgia, Moldova and the Balkan countries. This will be a significant expansion, which is why reforms are necessary so that possible changes do not have a negative impact on the structure and work of the EU,” Kowal said.
Today, three aspects of improving the functioning of the EU before the accession of new members are considered. This is about improving the Union’s ability to take concrete action, directly preparing for expansion and strengthening the practice of the rule of law among EU members, Kowal explained.
“Moreover, there are ongoing discussions about the democratic legitimacy of the European Union and what needs to be done to make the countries’ citizens feel like real EU citizens,” Kowal said.
The emergence of new members will also lead to changes in the institutions of the European Union. “Today, the European Parliament has 751 members. The EU does not plan to increase this number. So, when new countries join the European Union, a place will have to be found for the new arrivals. In other words, it will be necessary to revise the quotas of representatives for each country,” explained Kowal.
Reforms are also planned in the Council of the European Union. Currently, every six months the presidency is transferred from one state to another. “For reasons of sustainability and consistency, the trio format works today. The country that held the presidency during the previous 6 months, the country that held the presidency during the current 6 months and the country that will hold the next presidency. This is called the triumvirate – three countries consulting each other. Now it is proposed to expand it not to three states, but to five, that is, in addition to the presiding country, the previous two and the next two,” the expert said.
The third change concerns the EU Council of Ministers. Today, unanimity of member countries is required to make a decision. It is expected that this condition will be modified and allow decisions to be taken by a majority of votes. “This will make it possible, for example, to circumvent opposition from a country that would “unreasonably” want to block the adoption of a decision by the Council of Ministers. And that’s a positive thing… We see, for example, how difficult it is to work in the UN Security Council when there is a “veto” right, says Kowal.
Negotiations with Ukraine will last a long time, Kowal predicts. Ukraine is a large country with powerful agriculture which must be integrated into the structure of the Union. The expert noted that Ukraine also accounts for another 10% of the EU population.
“The question of the independence of the judicial system is also crucial. And of course we must reduce the level of corruption. We still have a lot to do. Obviously, thank God, Ukraine also has its advantages, that is, areas (for example, digital policy) in which Ukraine has better indicators than the average majority of EU member states », concluded Kowal.
Within the EU framework, negotiations will take place separately with each country. In some circles there is talk of a possible enlargement in 2030, but they add that there will be no “fast track” for Ukraine or other candidates, Kowal said. “By the end of October, the European Commission must decide and confirm whether Ukraine is ready to start negotiations… And then, in December, member states will decide whether or not to start negotiations,” concluded the ‘expert.