European Western Balkans

Michel proposes a reform of enlargement and a European Geopolitical Community

Charles Michel; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – President of the European Council Charles Michel, a day before his visit to the Western Balkans, proposed a reform of the EU accession process as well as a formation of a European Geopolitical Community, in today’s speech to the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee.

Michel, who will visit Serbia, Albania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina this week, said that the problem with the current enlargement process is that it is “all or nothing”, which creates disillusionment, adding that new momentum is needed. He said that the process should be faster, gradual, and reversible.

“The solution would lie in a progressive and gradual integration, already during the accession process. More for more. For example, when a country meets the necessary standards in a given sector, it could actively participate with an advisory vote in the work of the Council of Ministers depending on the agenda. The country would also be gradually integrated into EU actions, as its compliance with the acquis is confirmed. For example, in certain areas of the internal market, the EU roaming area or the common energy market”, Michel said.

He added that, when the country achieves certain benchmarks, it would also benefit from access to European programs and funding that offer concrete benefits to its citizens.

According to the President of the European Council, the principle of reversibility should also be integrated into this process.

“A rollback would have a direct impact on the country’s level of integration. For example, if a country backtracks on the rule of law, some of the benefits gained from integration could be taken away from it”, Michel said.

In addition, he said, bilateral disputes, often motivated by minority issues, should receive particular and immediate attention.

European Geopolitical Community

“We must also think beyond enlargement”, President Michel said, adding that, as the EU assumes greater geopolitical leadership, international expectations of our Union are also rising, especially from a number of EU’s neighbors who want a new relationship with it.

“This stems from a fundamental observation: there is a geopolitical community, which extends from Reykjavik to Baku or Yerevan, from Oslo to Ankara… I am firmly convinced that we must give this geographical space a political reality. And we have to do it right away”, he said.

He said that this initiative is in no way intended to replace enlargement, but also that it is not a guarantee that those who participate will one day be a member of the European Union.

Michel called for the formation of the European Geopolitical Community, whose aim would be to forge convergence and deepen operational cooperation to address common challenges, and to promote peace, stability and security on the continent.

“The Western Balkans, the associated countries of our Eastern Partnership and other European countries with which we have close relations come to mind first”, Michel said.

He proposed that the Heads of State or governments of the participating countries would take the lead and meet at least twice a year, with foreign policy being a major area of ​​cooperation within this Community. Foreign Ministers would join the EU Foreign Affairs Council on a regular basis, and other formations of the Council could follow the same example.

“Emphasis would also be placed on association with socio-economic programs which do not require regulatory alignment, but which can bring concrete mutual benefits. For example, Erasmus, the Horizon research and development programme, or transport and energy infrastructure”, Michel said.

He said he had started to consult the 27 leaders on this subject and that he would put it on the agenda of our June European Council.

“And I will propose holding a conference around the summer. It will bring together the leaders of the EU and those of the partner countries concerned, in order to discuss the concrete options of this new common project. And I will organize, in coordination with the French presidency, a meeting with the leaders of the EU and the Western Balkans in June, on the sidelines of our European Council”, Michel said.

His proposals come a week after the President of France Emmanuel Macron proposed what seems to be a similar concept – a European Political Community.

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