From enlargement to the unification of Europe: Why the EU needs a DG Europe for future Members and Association Countries

European Commission; Photo: European Union 2014

BRUSSELS – Nowhere else is the demand for more EU involvement as strong as in the Western Balkans and the three association countries and the EU should not shy away from the political and transformative influence it has and should equip the next Commission with the tools to finally achieve the unification of Europe, it is stated in the latest policy brief of the Open Society European Policy Institute – From enlargement to the unification of Europe: Why the European Union needs a Directorate General Europe for future Members and Association Countries.

The authors of this policy brief – Srđan Cvijić and Iskra Kirova from the Open Society European Policy Institute, and Marie Jelenka Kirchner and Zoran Nechev from the Institute of Democracy “Societas Civilis”, explain that despite the EU’s ambition of being a political player in its neighbourhood, “some member states have been unwilling to respond to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine’s aspirations for closer economic and political links out of fear of confronting Russia and aggravating enlargement weary voters.”

In addition to this, the EU also failed to show commitment towards the Western Balkans by postponing the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

“Juncker’s efforts to create a more political Commission have not translated into an independent foreign policy by Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner for ENP and Enlargement Negotiations and Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. Instead, the EU’s activities in enlargement countries and its neighbourhood have remained more than ever piloted or obstructed by member state capitals,” reads the policy brief.

With an overview of the two mandates of the European Commission since 2009, the policy brief states that the Juncker’s mandate started rather unfortunate with his announcement that there would be no further enlargement over the course of the next five years.

“DG NEAR was a status-quo institution. It reflected the lack of a new agenda towards the Western Balkans, and oddly enough, continued to treat the entire neighbourhood – east and south – as a cohere region of similar EU engagement. This limited the EU’s resources and ability to invest in deepening relations and projecting its influence, particularly in the enlargement and reform-oriented Eastern Partnership countries.”

While looking at the priorities of Commissioner Hahn, the policy brief notes that a disproportionate part of his attention was focused on the Western Balkans and the three association countries.

The brief points out that a commissioner who is constantly dividing his or her time between completely different regions will not be able to give the in-depth attention needed for the demanding political and reform agenda, and that the current environment requires reinventing enlargement as a concept, strengthening the continent’s integrity and completing the process of the unification of Europe.

The brief suggests a creating of a DG Europe only for accession and association countries.

“A directorate general with a narrower geographic mandate would have an energising effect for the enlargement countries following the good steps made by the 2018 EU Western Balkans Strategy.”

The policy brief also suggests that the countries of the Southern Neighbourhood should be separated from a DG dealing with the Western Balkans, EFTA and the three association countries.

On the other hand, it also proposes changing procedures and allowing qualified majority voting (QMV) in all intermediary stages of EU accession negotiations.

“Qualified majority voting is a two-way street. If adopted it would place the Council in a better position to reward but also sanction. A vote by a qualified majority of member states would make it easier to block the accession talks with a candidate country completely derailing from the EU membership path,” reads the policy brief.

It also states that for the Western Balkans, 2019 provides an opportunity for a new focus toward much more effective EU policy in the immediate neighbourhood.

“Moving away from the concept of enlargement towards the unification of Europe and continental integrity will make a crucial contribution to strengthening the EU’s role in the world. Succeeding in the Western Balkans, a small region surrounded by EU member states, is an acid test for the Union’s ability to strengthen its transformative power in the rest of Europe and project its power and values elsewhere,” concludes the policy brief.