MEPs call for EU to be reformed ahead of enlargement

MEPs call for EU to be reformed ahead of enlargement
Expanded EU with 35 members cannot function with the current rules, says report backed by European Parliament committees. / European Parliament
By bne IntelliNews January 23, 2024

The European Union must enhance its institutional and financial capabilities in anticipation of enlargement, according to a report endorsed by members of the European Parliament on January 23. 

MEPs from the Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Affairs committees endorsed a report that says the processes for preparing for enlargement should take place in parallel in both the EU and accession countries.

The report was backed by 56 MEPs from the two committees, with 20 votes against and six abstentions. 

The report, titled "Deepening of EU Integration in the Light of Enlargement," underscores the significant importance of the enlargement process as a geostrategic initiative that will bolster peace, stability and prosperity across the European continent. 

It expresses support for the Western Balkan countries, as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, all of which aspire to join the EU, but are at different stages of the accession process.

“It is high time to advance EU accession negotiations with candidate countries. We are recommending a common approach whereby enlargement and EU institutional and decision-making reforms must go hand in hand, and to strengthen the EU and deliver on the promise made to candidate countries,” said co-rapporteur Petras Austrevicius. 

The report advocates for institutional reforms, suggesting the simplification of decision-making procedures and the shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting in areas such as defending democracy, human rights, rule of law, sanctions and relevant foreign policy decisions. This proposal aims to prevent the potential blockage of decisions by member states.

“MEPs call for stronger protection of the rule of law and the EU’s democratic values against backsliding in both existing and future member states, ensuring that enlargement strengthens the Union,” the report says. 

Reforms leading up to enlargement should also tackle the impact of expansion on the European Parliament's composition, along with changes to the operational procedures of the Council, including the rotation system for Council presidencies. 

Additionally, there is a need to reassess the calculation of qualified majority voting thresholds to enhance equilibrium between larger and smaller states and establish elevated thresholds for pivotal decisions, the document says. 

“The political message of the European Parliament in this report is clear: for enlargement to be possible, besides important reforms in the candidate countries, we need institutional and financial reforms at European level, otherwise the EU will not be ready to absorb new members,” said co-rapporteur Pedro Silva Pereira. 

“An enlarged EU, with 35 or more member states, cannot function with the current rules designed for 27. If we want to be serious about enlargement, we have to acknowledge that European reforms are needed and that creative solutions, [such] as differentiated integration, must be part of the EU’s institutional architecture.” 

On the enlargement process, the document calls on the EU to “set concrete individual reform targets, roadmaps and intermediate timelines for each accession country, with no fast-track or fixed pre-defined deadlines for membership”. 

The report backs the concept of giving benefits to accession candidates on the road to enlargement. Nations making significant strides in EU-related reforms should have the opportunity to progressively integrate into common EU policies, such as the single market. MEPs argue that such progress should open the door to accessing EU funds, providing tangible benefits to citizens throughout the integration process.