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Michel says EU must be ready to admit new members by 2030

August 28, 2023

European Council President Charles Michel said the EU and candidate countries must implement reforms so new members can join by the end of the decade. EU Leaders will discuss the issue at an upcoming summit.

European Council President Charles Michel speaks during the Bled Strategic Forum 2023 at the Bled Festival Hall in Bled, Slovenia
European Council President Charles Michel encouraged the European Union to be prepared for the next enlargement by 2030Image: Daniel Novakovic/Slovenian Government Press Service/AP/picture alliance

The European Union should make a "bold move" and accept new members by 2030, European Council President Charles Michel said on Monday.

He made the remarks at the international strategic forum at the Slovenian lakeside resort of Bled, a meeting attended by Western Balkan leaders.

"I believe we must be ready, on both sides, by 2030 to enlarge," Michel said. "This is ambitious, but necessary. It shows that we are serious,"  adding a timeline would grant the bloc more credibility.

"Not reforming on our side before the next enlargement would be a fundamental mistake," Michel said. "It only makes sense for new member states to join a Union that's functioning well, that's efficient," he stated.

According to Michel, the bloc's leaders would discuss "the EU's capacity to absorb new members," at an upcoming summit in Granada, Spain, in October. Going through the accession process and eventually joining the bloc requires unanimous decisions by all current members.

War in Ukraine shapes future of Europe

The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine has focused minds in Brussels on the need for new political momentum to support the ambition of several membership candidates.

Michel said that the war in Ukraine "has shown that peace and democracy cannot be taken for granted." "This war is not just devastating Ukraine: this war has a profound impact on the future of our continent. It has a profound impact on global security," he said.

EU officials fear that Russia could seek to destabilize the Balkans, which experienced a bloody war in the 1990s, and thus divert world attention from its aggression in Ukraine.

Russia's Balkan ally Serbia has refused to join EU sanctions against Moscow, although Belgrade says it respects Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Chancellor Scholz presents his vision for the EU's future

Who is knocking on EU's door?

The EU has currently 27 member states. The six Western Balkan states — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — are at different stages in the process of joining the bloc.

Last year Moldova and Ukraine were given candidate status. Both countries hoped to get the green light to start formal accession negotiations with Brussels by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Georgia was still waiting to receive the candidate status.

Michel said that, to join the bloc, future member states would have to implement reforms to ensure an independent judiciary, fight organized crime and corruption and align their foreign policy with EU member states.

He also urged all aspirants to resolve their bilateral conflicts before they join the European Union. "You need to make sure that past conflicts are not imported into the EU," he said.

What was reaction from Western Balkans?

Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama welcomed Michel's announcement, calling for words to "materialize in... real steps forward." He also voiced concerns that Ukraine's EU bid should not come at the expense of longer-standing candidates.

"Ukraine should be seen like a possible member state, but I wish this will not be (to the) detriment of the Western Balkans," he said.

EU east expansion

Meanwhile, Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic warned that waiting for a decade without negotiations since obtaining candidate status had fuelled euroscepticism in her country.

"We are geographically, economically, culturally, in every way European," she stressed, urging the bloc to "make that brave political decision" to integrate the Western Balkans into "the European family."

dh/lo (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)