Expanding the bloc requires careful preparation from the EU, both institutionally and financially.

To be viable and politically successful, European Union enlargement has to be prepared through important reforms both in the candidate countries and at the European level. For me, in my capacity as co-rapporteur, this is the main political message of the report Deepening EU integration in view of future enlargement, approved by the European Parliament during its second February plenary session in Strasbourg.  

The fact that a report on such a very hot topic got broad support – 305 votes in favour, 157 against and 71 abstentions – shows that the European Parliament is willing to take seriously the many challenges that come with enlarging the EU. 

Not so long ago, when people talked about the need for preparing the next enlargement, they were mostly thinking about reforms in the candidate countries to meet the Copenhagen criteria. And indeed, those reforms remain indispensable, including on crucial topics such as human rights, the rule of law and the functioning of democracy. As a consequence, the EP’s report makes clear that each candidacy must be assessed on its own merits, without fast-tracking or pre-defined timetables. 

What is new in the political discussion about enlargement is that people are becoming more aware of the fact that we also need institutional and financial pre-enlargement reforms at the European level. That is where the EP’s report is a major contribution.

As a joint exercise by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, this report delivers strong political messages on the various dimensions of the enlargement process. It acknowledges that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has reinforced the geostrategic importance of enlarging the EU, but it also points out that an enlarged Europe cannot properly operate under the old rules designed for 27.  

It is important to recall that we have no fewer than nine candidate countries, with Kosovo willing to be added to that list. Accession negotiations are ongoing with most of them, and in some cases have been ongoing for many years. A mix of expectation and disappointment persists, in particular in the western Balkans. Obviously, this cannot last forever.  

The EU needs to do its homework in parallel with accession negotiations, and it should start sooner rather than later. Of course, the degree of the changes required at the European level very much depends on the scale of the enlargement scenario, in terms of the number of countries involved and their size. We may end up with several enlargement procedures, instead of only one or two. In any event, the EP’s report clearly proposes a number of pre-enlargement reforms in the EU’s institutional and budgetary architecture.  

 On the institutional side, we need to simplify our decision-making procedures, with less unanimity and more qualified majority decisions to reduce the risk of blockages. We also need to review the composition of the European Commission and the Parliament, without ruling out a reasonable increase in the size of the EP so that all countries are sufficiently represented in the ‘house of European democracy.’ Differentiated integration should also be part of the solution, taking full advantage of the flexibility already allowed by the Treaty of Lisbon, while ensuring a broad area of European common ground. 

On the financial side, it is obvious that enlargement represents a substantial challenge for the EU, in particular regarding its impact on cohesion and agriculture policies. This requires a larger EU budget – and needs to be addressed before any enlargement takes place. 

Following Brexit, some anticipated a domino effect that would lead to the implosion of the EU. History decided otherwise. Today, no country wants to leave and many want to join – a clear sign of the vitality of the EU, and the hope it represents for so many. This is another strong reason to treat enlargement seriously, making sure in advance that we are ready to absorb new members. This is the only way enlargement can be a success story for everyone. 


Artigo publicado do "The Parliament Magazine" a 28/03/2024.