Charting the Path to EU Enlargement: Targets, Reforms, and Geopolitical Imperatives

Following Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, the European Union (EU) has rekindled its interest in accepting new members. In June 2022, Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status, and President Emmanuel Macron expressed a desire for swift enlargement in May 2023. This marks a significant change, as previously, Paris viewed new member accession as a threat to EU cohesion, but now sees it as essential for European sovereignty.

However, supporters of enlargement should remain cautious. The enthusiasm for new members could fade rapidly, and skepticism and concerns about an expanded union still persist. Recent disputes, like the one over Ukrainian agricultural products, highlight these reservations, even among strong supporters like Warsaw. Therefore, the EU must take decisive action while there is political momentum.

The EU summit in December 2023, led by the Spanish presidency, presents an opportunity to outline the steps needed to make enlargement a reality. Four key actions are proposed: setting a 2030 target date for enlargement, adapting EU policies to accommodate new members, establishing a ‘Madrid criterion’ for foreign policy alignment among aspiring members, and granting Kosovo candidate status.

  1. Set 2030 as the Target Date for Enlargement: The EU should commit to a target date for the next round of enlargement. This commitment, made by the European Council, would not obligate the EU to accept unprepared countries but would serve as a political pledge to open the door to those ready and willing. A target date of 2030, aligned with accession strategies of candidate states, would be ambitious yet achievable.
  2. Agree on the ‘Warsaw Agenda’ for Internal Reform: Preparing for enlargement by 2030 necessitates internal reforms within the EU. The lessons from the 2004 eastern enlargement highlight the need to adapt EU policies to accommodate new members. This includes policy adjustments to align with the reality of an expanded union.
  3. Adopt the ‘Madrid Criterion’ for Foreign Policy Alignment: The EU should emphasize that the next enlargement is driven by geopolitical necessity to protect EU interests and security. Therefore, foreign and security alignment of aspiring partners should be a fundamental criterion for accession. This should be communicated clearly and formally embraced as the ‘Madrid criterion,’ signaling its political significance.

In conclusion, while the prospect of EU enlargement has gained momentum, it remains important to address skepticism and concerns. By setting a target date, reforming internal policies, emphasizing foreign policy alignment, , the EU can take tangible steps toward making enlargement a reality.

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