Michel’s 2030 EU enlargement goal welcomed, but also met with skepticism

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 31, 2023 15:26

Michel’s 2030 EU enlargement goal welcomed, but also met with skepticism

Story Highlights

  • If in the region the date, seven years in the future, seems too far off, in Brussels it might be seen as too close. 

Related Articles

TIRANA, Aug. 31. 2023 - European Council President Charles Michel has set a goal for the European Union and aspirant states to be ready for enlargement by 2030. 

Speaking at a regional forum in Slovenia on Aug. 28, Michel said that it was time for those states that have been waiting in an EU membership line for more than 20 years to be given "a clear goal." 

“I believe we must be ready -- on both sides -- by 2030 to enlarge,” Michel said, adding: “Let’s be honest, we have sometimes used -- maybe we have abused -- the lack of progress of future member states to avoid facing our own homework, our own preparedness. We must now take a serious look at the EU’s capacity to absorb new members.”

-Comments welcomed in frustrated Western Balkans-

Such acknowledgement of the EU's unreasonable delays is no doubt welcome in the region. 

Western Balkan states recently marked the two-decade anniversary of an EU promise at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 that Albania and all the other countries of the region would be accepted as full EU members once conditions are met. 

However, progress has been very slow, leading to a collapse in support for EU membership in some countries like Serbia and North Macedonia. Albania remains an outlier with above 90 percent support, but people most involved in the integration process now believe full membership is increasingly an elusive goal. 

However, even the new proposed goal, seven years away, has been met with skepticism in both the region and Brussels. 

Speaking at the same forum, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama welcomed Michel's call for enlargement but urged for tangible steps forward, especially in areas like funding for infrastructure and more access to the EU market.

“There should not be only reforms and criticism that are necessary, but also the most consistent support, and I’m not talking only from the financial point of view, but also the market access of our enterprises,” the Albanian prime minister said.

Rama also expressed concerns that Ukraine's candidacy should not overshadow the Western Balkans' long-standing aspirations. 

Serbia's Prime Minister Ana Brnabic highlighted that the lack of negotiations since obtaining candidate status has fueled euroscepticism in her country. She called on the EU to make a brave political decision and integrate the Western Balkans into the European family as soon as possible.

Their Montenegrin counterpart, Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic criticized the target date, not mincing words: “2030 for us, for Montenegro, is too far.” Abazovic also emphasized that the integration of Western Balkan countries as soon as possible holds implications for security and the prospective advancement of their economies.

In turn, Michel underscored that during deliberations, leaders will explore the possibility of permitting applicants to engage in the process of selecting EU meetings subsequent to their fulfillment of specific membership prerequisites.

-EU’s executive unhappy with Michel’s remarks-

But if in the region the date seems too far off, in Brussels it might be seen as too close. The European Commission appeared to dismiss the European Council president's proposed 2030 timeline for EU enlargement, marking a direct clash between the two top institutions in Brussels. 

Dana Spinant, the commission's deputy spokesperson, emphasized that their focus lies in collaboration with candidate countries rather than adhering to a specific date. 

"We are not focused on a date, but focused on working very closely with candidate countries to get ready for joining the European Union," Spinant said on Aug. 29.

Crucially, Spinant pointed out that Charles Michel had not engaged in consultations with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen regarding the content of his enlargement speech delivered the day before at a conference in Bled, Slovenia.

This public divergence between von der Leyen and Michel, occurs amid a growing discourse on EU enlargement within Brussels.

Coinciding with Michel's remarks, French President Emmanuel Macron floated the idea of a "multi-speed" EU approach for candidate countries seeking accession. 

-Michel’s vision foresees reforms on both sides-

During his address at the international strategic forum, Michel emphasized the importance of bold action. The European Council president underlined the significance of his proposed 2030 timeline, noting that such an ambitious approach demonstrates the EU's seriousness and credibility.

Michel also highlighted the necessity of internal reforms prior to the anticipated enlargement. 

"Not reforming on our side before the next enlargement would be a fundamental mistake," he cautioned. 

Michel asserted that new member states should join a well-functioning and efficient union. EU's upcoming summit, scheduled to take place in Granada, Spain, in October, will delve into "the EU's capacity to absorb new members," Michel revealed. 

He also emphasized that future member states must demonstrate reforms in areas such as an independent judiciary, combating organized crime and corruption, and aligning foreign policy with EU member states. He also called for the resolution of bilateral conflicts before joining the union, in order to prevent the importation of historical disputes.

-Is a change to unanimous approval in the books?-

Admission into the bloc requires unanimous approval from all existing members, making the process a delicate and intricate one. That has led to repeated delays on bilateral matters for North Macedonia, for example, which has been endlessly blocked first by Greece then by Bulgaria. As Tirana was coupled with Skopje, it too was held back for two years from advancing in its bid to open EU negotiations.

There have been discussions in Brussels that such a rule would be reformed in the future, but several EU states are against the idea.

Against the backdrop of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Michel stressed the critical importance of a strengthened European community to support the aspirations of membership candidates. 

In the context of these concerns, EU officials are wary of Russia's potential efforts to destabilize the Balkans, an area that endured a devastating conflict in the 1990s. The fear is that such actions could divert global attention from Russia's aggression in Ukraine.

Cover photo credit: PDP

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 31, 2023 15:26