Ten EU leaders meet to ‘brainstorm’ bloc’s enlargement future

A group of 10 EU leaders met informally on Friday (30 June) on the sidelines of a summit in Brussels to ‘brainstorm’ what the bloc’s enlargement could mean for its future.

Friday’s informal breakfast meeting, initiated by France, Germany and the Netherlands, gathered a ‘geographically balanced’ group of countries, including leaders from Belgium, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.

The group’s composition also sought to strike a balance between countries traditionally more supportive and hesitant towards enlargement efforts.

Talks focused on “how to manage the process of enlargement” in parallel to consideration about future members, several EU diplomats, briefed on the talks, told EURACTIV.

“To be prepared for the future, member states need to start thinking through some of the consequences and some of the issues that need to be dealt with if and when the EU is to is to enlarge,” one of the EU diplomats told EURACTIV.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the shift in the current geopolitical landscape have resuscitated the EU’s enlargement process after almost a decade of stagnation.

But while Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are expected to pick up the pace on reform efforts this summer in their bids for EU membership, the EU has so far only been moving slowly towards its own reform debate.

The ‘conversation starter’ for the informal talks was a discussion paper prepared by the Brussels Institute for Geopolitics, established last October in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which raised a broad range of questions member states should consider addressing.

Items included governance and decision-making processes such as questions about moving from unanimity towards qualified majority voting, the functioning of the EU’s internal market and changes in the bloc’s budget, impact on policy areas such as agriculture and cohesion as well as how quickly to introduce freedom of movement.

“They’re realising that they shouldn’t wait to start thinking about those questions until the moment of enlargement is a fact – we need to start preparing for the future,” a second EU diplomat said.

“It was the first time EU leaders actually sat down around a table to discuss this,” they said, adding that the purpose was to “start thinking through these elements and identifying what we should start thinking of.”

“It’s not something that needs to be answered tomorrow, we have some time, but we also shouldn’t wait till the very last minute and then scramble to find answers,” they added.

The informal leader’s talks come a week after European affairs ministers have been asked to explore how a future enlarged bloc could function though, at least initially, without considering EU treaty reform, according to an internal note seen earlier by EURACTIV.

In October, the European Commission is expected to publish its annual enlargement package with reports on how much progress aspirant countries’ have made towards joining the bloc in the future.

Those so far included the Western Balkan six – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – as well as Turkey.

For the first time, the EU executive’s package will also include reports on Ukraine, Moldova, who applied for EU candidate status last year, and Georgia, who received a ‘European perspective’.

Following Friday’s talks, EU leaders are expected to take the discussion about the bloc’s absorption rate and necessary reforms a step further when they meet for their informal summit in Granada under the Spanish EU presidency in October.

The informality of the Granada summit could help to consolidate some of the brainstormed ideas, several people briefed on the talks said.

“After Granada, the discussions will keep on going during the following EU summits and we will probably have some results next year – we’re talking about a long-term process,” a third EU diplomat said.

“The EU is not what it used to be,” they added.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]


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