European Western Balkans

Michel: We must be ready, on both sides, to enlarge by 2030

President of the European Council Charles Michel at Bled Strategic Forum 2023; Photo: X, Charles Michel

BLED – President of the European Council Charles Michel delivered a keynote address at today’s opening of the 2023 Bled Strategic Forum, a large part of his speech focusing on the enlargement of the European Union. Michel stated that both the EU and the candidate countries must be ready for enlargement by 2030 and proposed several steps that should be taken to enable this.

“To be stronger, to be safer, the EU needs to enforce our bonds and become more powerful, and therefore now is the time to tackle the challenge of enlargement, both for us in the EU and for our future member states and yes, I believe that it is time to call countries with EU perspective future member states. It is time to get rid of the ambiguities, it is time to face the challenges with clarity and with honesty”, Michel said.

With the Prime Ministers of all six Western Balkan countries in attendance, Michel reminded that the road for the region to the EU began more than 20 years ago and assessed that the slow pace of this journey has disappointed many.

President of the European Council also reminded that, in June last year, the EU decided to grant the candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova and the same status to Georgia when they complete the necessary steps.

“So, now enlargement is no longer a dream. It is time to move forward. There is still a lot of work to do. It will be difficult, it will be complex, sometimes painful for the future member states and the EU, but if we want to be credible, we must talk about timing, we must talks about our homework. As we prepare the next EU Stategic Agenda, we must set ourselves a clear goal. I believe we must be ready on both sides, by 2030, to enlarge”, Michel said.

He added that this means that the EU’s next long-term budget will need to include our common goals.

“This is, I know, ambitious, but it is necessary. The window of opportunity is open, we need to act on it and this is why EU leaders will discuss enlargement at our next European Council meetings. We will take a stance on opening EU accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova and I also expect Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia to be back on the table”, he said.

Michel stressed that the rule of law, economic preparedness and resolution of bilateral issues remain the conditions for joining the EU.

“There is no cooperation without reconciliation. And I would like to be clear, there is no room for past conflicts within the EU”, Michel said.

One way to tackle this issue, he proposed, would be to add a so-called confidence clause in the accession treaties, ensuring that countries that just joined cannot block future Member States.

Michel also reminded that last year he proposed the idea of gradual integration of the candidate countries in specific EU policies, which the European Council supported.

“Commission’s Enlargement Package in October is a good opportunity to outline the details of this gradual enlargement. For example, an idea is that the country can participate in the corresponding Council Formation once they complete the negotiation in the given policy chapter” Michel said, adding that the next EU-Western Balkan summit will be held in December, back-to-back with the European Council meeting.

The EU also needs to get ready for enlargement, the President of the European Council said.

“I fully agree with what President Emmanuel Macron said – not reforming before enlargement would be a fundamental mistake. And let us be honest, we have used and abused the lack of progress of future Member States to avoid facing our own progress”, he said.

According to Michel, the EU’s decision-making process has made a quantum leap in recent years. Yet, more can be done to speed decision-making.

“More members will mean more diversity, and we will need to adapt our institutional framework and procedures so that the enlarged EU is able to make efficient and timely decisions”, he said, but added that he was against completely scrapping the principle of unanimity.

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