Monday

25th Jan 2021

EU to publish new enlargement method

  • European Commission proposals come after French veto last year (Photo: European Commission)

EU hopefuls will know more about the hoops they will have to jump through in future when the European Commission publishes its new "enlargement methodology" this week.

"Our aim is not to redesign enlargement, but to strengthen the process," a commission spokesperson told EUobserver.

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The proposals were aimed at making "accession negotiations more effective, more credible, predictable, objective, political and more dynamic," the spokesperson added.

They were also designed to "take into account the concerns raised by some of our member states," the spokesperson said.

The current enlargement method sees the EU negotiate 35 legal and political "chapters" with each candidate before welcoming them as a new member and unlocking full access to EU funds and policymaking, in a process which takes five to 10 years.

But France, last October, said this should be boiled down to just seven steps and that access to EU perks should be gradually unlocked along the way.

It also said progress should be "reversible" for candidates who backslid on reforms.

And it froze enlargement in the Western Balkans until a new method has been agreed, even though Albania and North Macedonia had expected to open accession negotiations last year.

"We also want to associate and integrate our Western Balkan partners, at an earlier stage, in key EU policies like the Green Deal, infrastructure, and digital [policies]," the commission spokesperson said, in a nod to the French ideas on gradual access to perks.

"But we need to make sure that if one side delivers on what was asked, the other has to deliver as well," the spokesperson also said, alluding to France's shock veto on Albania and North Macedonia.

"We asked both countries to do a lot, they fulfilled the criteria and ... now we have to deliver," the spokesperson added.

"The Western Balkans are a priority for this commission and it is in our own geostrategic interest to bring our Western Balkans partners as close as possible to the EU," the spokesperson also said.

"The French president always said the future of the Western Balkans was in Europe - this was never put in doubt," an EU diplomat added.

And not just France, but also others such as Denmark and the Netherlands, were unhappy with business as usual on enlargement, the diplomat added.

"There was no [EU] unity for France to go against last October," the diplomat said.

Zagreb deadline

If the 27 commissioners agree the new proposals, as expected, at their meeting on Tuesday (4 February), then EU leaders might be be ready to adopt the new method at a summit in Brussels in March.

And that, in turn, would pave the way for a more optimistic EU summit with Western Balkan leaders in Zagreb in May.

"We hope for a positive decision [on Albania and North Macedonia] well ahead of the summit in Zagreb," the commission spokesperson said.

"In preparation for the Zagreb summit, the commission will also come forward with an economic development plan for the region," the spokesperson added.

"Our objective is to intensify our presence in the Western Balkans and to help close the economic development gap between us," the spokesperson said.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia want to join the EU, despite Chinese and Russian competition for influence in the region.

Turkey was in talks to join, but these broke down four years ago, when the Turkish president launched a brutal crackdown on political opponents.

Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine also want to join, but the EU is keeping them at arm's length, amid both frozen and active conflicts with Russia-backed forces on their territories.

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