French minister says EU enlargement must be decided by ‘years end’

French minister says EU enlargement must be decided by ‘years end’ |

Member states have until the end of 2023 to define the kind of enlargement mechanism that would work for countries looking to access the EU while ensuring the EU stays true to itself, French EU Minister Laurence Boone told EURACTIV on Saturday.

The idea of a “differentiated” accession process is to “anchor” EU candidate countries close to the bloc quickly, Boone told a conference panel on Saturday.

After years of the EU’s enlargement strategy being considered dormant, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the shift in the current geopolitical landscape led to the realisation that the EU’s strategic interest in a stable and secure environment in its immediate neighbourhood must go beyond who will be the next member.

The EU ought to strike a balance between its security and integrity and speeding up accession processes for candidate countries, Boone said.

Boone’s view was shared mainly by Renew Europe MEP and co-panellist Bernard Guetta, who calls for a “considerable change” in governance should the EU move from 27 member states to a tentative 35.

The EU would “eventually reunite all countries from the European continent” but in a “differentiated union”, Guetta said, referring to Jacques Delors’ Europe of ‘concentric circles’. Otherwise, candidate countries would have to undergo lengthy, 15-year-long accession processes.

In June last year, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status – a geopolitical move dubbed “historic” at the time.

Since then, some EU leaders, such as Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have warned that a large new wave of enlargement should only come with Treaty reform. Addressing the European Parliament on Tuesday (9 May), Scholz repeated that it was a “precondition” to enlargement.

He also called for a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting in taxation and foreign policy – a view Boone shares – which was on the discussion agenda during German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s visit in Paris earlier this month.

However, “the debate over institutional reform is not a goal in itself,” the EU Commission representative to France, Valérie Drezet-Humez, told EURACTIV on the margins of Saturday’s conference.

Instead, she wants to root the debate in “pragmaticism and empiricism” so as to agree very clearly on what the next steps ought to be.

At the same time, Boone on Saturday also tried to present the European Political Community (EPC), a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron, as the ‘right forum’ to discuss what kind of enlargement policy the EU wants, Boone told EURACTIV.

The second EPC summit, which brings together leaders from over 40 European countries, is set to take place next month (1 June) in Chișinău, Moldova. However, its members are split about the purpose of the format, with many dismissing the idea of it becoming a replacement for actual EU enlargement.

Drezet-Humez echoed Boone, saying the EPC proved necessary insofar as it “met a need” for a new political forum to address enlargement issues and challenges, which she claims now needs to focus on “concrete projects”.

(Theo Bourgery-Gonse | – edited by Alexandra Brzozowski

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