European Western Balkans

Tocci: The next Commission president should commit to enlargement during their mandate

Family photo of the European Political Community, 6 October 2022; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the possibility of accession prospects of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have put enlargement back on the European agenda. If, by 2034, the EU enlarges to include a couple of small new members while reaching agreements on gradual integration with Ukraine, it would have accomplished a stunning strategic feat, writes Nathalie Tocci, director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, in an op-ed published by Politico.

According to Tocci, resistance to the enlargement to Western Balkans and Turkey in the EU has grown due to economic costs and the lack of compelling security reason.

However, in light of Russia’s threat, there’s now an existential security reason behind EU enlargement, she writes. This raises the question which countries should be given a priority.

“As long as the war rages on and reconstruction remains an EU priority, Ukraine’s accession will be a major policy focus. This raises the question of the trio’s decoupling from the Balkans, where the security imperative for enlargement is weaker, reform is slow and conflict resolution sluggish. Yet, bloc members with an interest in the region will push against this — and they will get their way”, Tocci writes.

However, she adds, this doesn’t mean the EU will see another big-bang enlargement from its current 27 to 35 or 36 member countries in the next decade. In fact, provided reforms pick up and are sustained, the embrace of small countries like Moldova in the east and Montenegro in the Balkans could happen well before a decade, puncturing the EU’s enlargement paralysis, Tocci points out.

On the other hand, Ukraine is the largest and the most complex country to include, meaning that it is hard to see how it could enter the EU in less than a decade.

“This is where ideas for gradual integration come in — both traditional ones regarding entry into the single market and greater access to EU funds, as well as more innovative ones, such as including candidates in the European Green Deal, the digital market, industrial policy, and foreign and security policy”, writes Tocci.

She stresses that enlarging to a couple of small new members, reaching agreements on gradual integration with Ukraine and even the United Kingdom and resolving the issues of post-enlargement representation and financing would be a “stunning strategic feat” if it was achieved within the next decade.

According to Tocci, When Jean-Claude Juncker was appointed president of the European Commission in 2014, he created an unnecessary stir when he stated what everyone already knew: that enlargement wouldn’t take place during his mandate.

“The next Commission president, taking office in 2024, should turn the Juncker statement on its head, creating a positive stir by committing to what no one has had the courage yet to say: that enlargement will take place under their watch”, she concludes.

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