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European Commission plans 'gradual, reversible' enlargement

Saim Dušan Inayatullah
March 20, 2024

The European Commission said the EU could admit new members gradually, where countries adopt the bloc's policies before full membership. It said that enlargement would give the EU "greater geopolitical weight."

EU flags at Commission building in Brussels, Belgium
The European Commission has released a report on enlargement suggesting the bloc could admit members in a gradual, reversible processImage: Cornelius Poppe/NTB/picture alliance

The European Commission on Wednesday recommended that new members be gradually integrated into the European Union in a "reversible" process.

In the report on pro-enlargement reforms, it said that admitting new members is in the EU's "strategic interest," adding that new members would give the bloc "greater geopolitical weight and influence on the global stage." It cited geopolitical challenges such as Russia's war in Ukraine.

What else did the report say about enlargement?

The report suggested Brussels could allow candidate countries to integrate partially into the EU before being afforded full membership.

The enlargement process would "[offer] to candidate countries and potential candidates enhanced avenues for 'gradual integration' of enlargement countries into selected EU policies, already before their accession, by frontloading certain benefits and obligations of EU membership."

However, the Commission's report stressed that full membership would require "full adherence to a single comprehensive set of rights and obligations, which cannot be 'a la carte.'"

Previous waves of enlargement have included transitional periods, but such processes were not reversible.

The Commission said the bloc should ensure "both the EU and future member states are well-prepared," adding that the EU "needs to implement reforms" ahead of enlargement.

Amid the suggested EU reforms, the report recommended shifting from requiring unanimity to needing qualified majority voting in certain areas of foreign and security policy. Brussels has recently grappled with Hungarian vetos on aid to Ukraine.

The Commission report also insisted that the bloc needs to "maintain undisputed respect for and continued application of the EU's core values" when admitting new members.

In recent years, the Commission has withheld EU budget payments to Hungary and Poland — both states that acceded to the union in 2004 — over rule of law disputes.

What countries could join the EU?

The EU opened accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova late last year and also granted Georgia candidate status.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had threatened to veto the start of Kyiv's membership negotiations but then left a summit conference room during a vote, effectively allowing talks to open.

Also negotiating are the Western Balkan states of Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia, while Bosnia has candidate status. Turkey has been a candidate country to join the EU since 2005 although talks have been at a standstill since 2018.

Earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock urged the countries of the Western Balkans to join the bloc as a way to stave off Russian influence in southeastern Europe.

This article was written in part with material from the German Press Agency (dpa).

Edited by: Sean M. Sinico