Politics & Economics

Calls for internal reforms urge as EU enlargement steps into spotlight

May 2024
By Editorial Staff

The European Union needs to be reformed before welcoming new members. This mantra echoed during the last General Affairs Council informal meeting convened to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the big enlargement. On the 1st May 2004 ten countries (Czechia, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia) joined the EU driving up to 25 the number of its members. 

The war in Ukraine and the Kyiv application to the EU candidate status “gave a new momentum to the discussion”, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, acknowledged during the press conference following the end of the EU ministers’ meeting. EU leaders stated in the Granada declaration signed in October 2023 that enlargement is a geostrategic investment in peace, stability and security. That awareness has to be matched with changes also within the European Union, to equip it with a smoother and more rapid decision-making process. The issue is directly linked to the right of veto to be used by Member States in the Foreign Affairs and Security policy domains, in many Economics-related matters and when decisions on Treaty changes have to be met. In a future enlarged European Union made eventually of 37 Member States right of veto abuses would condemned in several cases to inaction. 

“There are different schools of thought as regards the reopening the fundamental treaties means, and all Member States know that it will take a lot of time”, the Belgian minister outlined. The rotating presidency of the Council urged to use the existing tools to avoid an abuse of the right of veto. Lahbib mentioned a tighter link between “legislation, EU funding and the rule of law”. The reference to Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union is a simple one. The suspension clause enshrined under this article deprives the Member States concerned of their right to vote or to receive funds.  “We need to pre-empt and work more effectively on the conditionality, it’s our handbrake”, Lahbib said. 

“Smaller and middle size countries will always be very vigilant on it because veto is the only instrument they have in hand when something is dramatically against their national interests, but we have also to understand how we define national interests”, EU Commission Vice President for Democracy, Vera Jourova, said in her statement after the meeting. 

Reforms are needed also on the budget side. With many regions of the future EU candidates in need of EU funds to bridge their development gap with the rest of the Union “we have to do everything to guarantee the absorption capacity to absorb those States” without negative disruption, Jourova insisted. 

Calls for welcoming new Member States to the EU by the end of the next European Commission mandate are rising vigorously. The message was once again reiterated by President of the European Council Charles Michel during a speech addressed to EU ministers. “We must be ready to enlarge on both sides, by 2030: for candidate countries, this means making the necessary reforms and solving all bilateral disputes and for the EU, it means reforming our programmes and budgets, and our decision-making”, he stressed.