European Council President Charles Michel proposed setting a target date for the bloc to get serious about admitting new members as Ukraine and other applicants press to rejuvenate the stalled enlargement debate.
(Bloomberg) — European Council President Charles Michel proposed setting a target date for the bloc to get serious about admitting new members as Ukraine and other applicants press to rejuvenate the stalled enlargement debate.
“I believe we must be ready — on both sides — by 2030 to enlarge,” he said Monday at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, adding that EU leaders will discuss the topic at their next summits.
Michel said the leaders will take a stand on opening formal accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova, and that they will also reengage on Bosnia’s prospects.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attended a dinner with Western Balkan leaders in Athens where enlargement was the prime topic. The debate has become increasingly urgent as the EU seeks to blunt Russia’s efforts to wield influence in the region, but it also remains quite sensitive inside the bloc, because of the complicated histories of the applicants and because it will entail significant budgetary tradeoffs.
“Let’s be honest, we have sometimes used — maybe we have abused — the lack of progress of future member states to avoid facing our own homework, our own preparedness,” he added. “We must now take a serious look at the EU’s capacity to absorb new members.”
Michel said leaders will discuss whether to allow applicants to begin participating in selecting EU meetings after they complete specific requirements toward membership.
Dritan Abazovic, the prime minister of Montenegro, criticized Michel’s targets, saying, “2030 for us, for Montenegro, is too far.” He added that integrating Western Balkan countries is a question of security and future economic development.
Earlier Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that in the next few months, the EU “will go through a double-sided movement” with “surely, institutional changes” for both deeper integration and enlargement, “especially toward the Western Balkans.”
“The risk would be to do what we’ve done before: that is, to think about the enlargement process without thinking the reform through. I can easily testify that that’s it’s hard enough for a Europe with 27 members to make progress on essential topics — and it won’t get any easier with 32 or 35 members, to say the least.”
He added that one possibility was a “multi-speed” Europe, with varying partnerships between different groups of members.
–With assistance from Ania Nussbaum.
(Updates with quote from Montenegrin leader in 7th paragraph)
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