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13th Apr 2024

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Enlargement, fiscal rules, Cate Blanchett in focus This WEEK

  • Analysts predict the EU Commission is likely to grant Ukraine and Moldova opening of accession negotiations this week (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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The European Commission is on Wednesday (8 November) expected to present its annual progress report for all countries aspiring to achieve EU membership, which will help guide discussions among EU member states during the next European Council in December.

Eight countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine) currently have official EU candidate status.

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  • Australian actress Cate Blanchett will address MEPs on Wednesday in her capacity as an ambassador for UNHCR (Photo: Wikimedia)

But Ukraine, Moldova, and the Western Balkans have become frontrunners in the process, largely due to geopolitics.

Analysts predict the commission is likely to grant Ukraine and Moldova opening of accession negotiations under some conditions, mainly linked to reforms in the justice system and the fight against corruption.

According to Engjellushe Morina, a researcher from the European Council on Foreign Relations, there is a need to revive the process and seriously implement reforms for the Western Balkans. "In some Balkan countries, in recent years, there has been a considerable regress in many areas".

Serbia falls short of full compliance with the common foreign and security policy and faces issues in media freedom and judicial reform. Montenegro's political crises are hindering EU reforms. And in North Macedonia, the process has stalled due to resistance to Bulgarian minority-related constitutional changes, she said.

The issue of enlargement has been historically linked to the credibility of the EU itself — and, lately, to its capacity to uphold reforms needed for larger integration.

"The credibility of the EU's enlargement policy goes hand-in-hand with the predictability of the accession process" and unanimity rules to accept new applicant remains problematic, Steven Blockmans from the Centre for European Policy Studies, told EUobserver.

Pre-accession states should receive more financial support and greater participation in EU institutions when they meet specific benchmarks to catch up with the EU faster, he said.

Meanwhile, the so-called 'absorption capacity' debate also revealed existing fears about widening the EU to include, for example, a country as large as Ukraine.

But the EU membership prospects of both Ukraine and smaller states should serve as catalysts for the reform of the common agricultural policy, cohesion spending and institutional arrangements, all of which are essential for the functioning of an expanded EU, said Blockmans.

Later on Wednesday, the EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, will present to MEPs from the foreign affairs committee EU plans for enlargement.

This comes a week after EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's tour throughout the Western Balkans, and a few days after she visited Ukraine.

Ukraine has "made excellent progress," she said, during a news conference in Kyiv.

"I know you are in the process of completing outstanding reforms. If this happens and, I am confident, Ukraine can reach its ambitious goal of moving to the next stage in the accession process."

Meanwhile, EU ambassadors from over 140 countries are convening in Brussels this week. EU's security and defence are expected to be high on the agenda of this year's event, organised by the European External Action Service.

Fiscal rules

MEPs will also hold a plenary debate on Wednesday over a report looking at how to increase the so-called own resources — a timely discussion amid negotiations over the revision of the EU budget, including a €100bn top-up proposed by the commission.

Also on Wednesday, the Eurogroup will meet to discuss inflation and fiscal policy in the euro area.

New European spending rules will also be discussed by EU economy ministers on Thursday (9 November).

But an agreement seems unlikely this week as Germany has been unwilling to reach a compromise on its debt-reduction demands, with France and Italy calling for more spending leeway.

In 2024, countries will have to follow specific budget recommendations once again, after rules were suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic and then again in 2022 due to the economic impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Then on Friday (10 November), the council will aim to reach a deal with the European Parliament on the EU's annual budget for 2024.

Nato chief meets Hungary's Novák

Also on Wednesday, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg will hold a meeting with the Hungarian president Katalin Novák — amid security concerns following the recent handshake between Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is under EU sanctions.

Hungary has also come into the spotlight for delaying Sweden's Nato membership bid, especially after Turkey launched the process for ratification last month.

After visiting South Sudan, Niger and Jordan this year, the Australian actress Cate Blanchett will address MEPs on Wednesday in her capacity as an ambassador for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

On Tuesday (7 November), MEPs in the committee of justice and home affairs will have an exchange of views with representatives of the EU's judicial agency, Eurojust and EU's police agency, Europol.

And on the same day, a draft proposal setting out common rules for the recognition of parenthood in all EU member states is expected to be adopted by MEPs in the committee of legal affairs.

MEPs from the budget committee will discuss with representatives of the budget committee of the Ukrainian Parliament about EU funds to Ukraine on Monday (6 November).

EU climate commissioner Wopke Hoekstra will kick off the week in Kenya to prepare for the UN climate talks (COP28), starting later this month.

Also on Tuesday, a resolution on the EU's position for COP28 will be adopted by the environment committee. The EU initiative to tackle pollinators' decline and a report on mental health will also subjected to a vote that day.

On the same day, EU commissioner for cohesion and reforms Elisa Ferreira will hold a debate with lawmakers in the budget committee.

On Thursday, MEPs are expected to adopt new emissions rules for cars (Euro 7), paving the way for inter-institutional negotiation with EU member states.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation will discuss the latest proposal for a Pandemic Treaty this week. The global accord aims to set obligations before and during a pandemic.

Plenary session, single market and economy in focus this WEEK

This week, get ready to dive into another plenary session of the EU Parliament and an agenda packed with economic and financial issues, ahead of a special EU summit in Brussels that will focus on competitiveness and the economy.

Environment, Ukraine imports, fish and Easter this WEEK

This week, expect no more than talks on environment, agriculture and fisheries, including discussions between the Polish and Ukrainian governments over angry protests by Polish farmers objecting to cheap grain imports from Ukraine.

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