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State of the Union: Disagreements over enlargement timeline

The EU has 27 member states - when will there be more?
The EU has 27 member states - when will there be more? Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Jean-Francois Badias/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved
By Stefan Grobe
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In this edition of State of the Union, we take a look at the political response to the extreme weather and the institutional disagreements over the EU enlargement timeline.

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State of the Union is back after our summer break – a period that saw soaring temperatures and fall-like storms like never before.

Again, this week, the weather in Europe was a tale of two stories.

In Greece, authorities further reinforced firefighting forces in the country’s northeast where a massive blaze, raging there since mid-August, flared up once more.

At the same time, an area stretching from northern Italy to Austria and Slovenia was hit by heavy rainfall and flash floods.

The fact that climate change is contributing to extreme weather has become commonplace, even in political circles.

Here’s the new master of the European Green Deal, EU Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, in our interview earlier this week:

“No action at this stage would be the worst possible solution because: let's look at this summer. Let's look at last summer. Last summer we saw what was terrible. This summer was much worse. And we just can brace (ourselves) for what the next summers would look like, if we did not act.”

Šefčovič took over from Frans Timmermans, who resigned from the EU Commission to run in the Dutch elections in November.

Should he become the country’s next Prime Minister, he will likely face – together with his EU colleagues – a major issue: the enlargement of the European Union.

A topic that has been on the back-burner for many years, but that has now gotten increased attention because of the fallout from the war in Ukraine.

This week, EU Council President Charles Michel came up with a surprising proposal:

“We must talk about timing: we must talk about our homework, and I have a suggestion. As we prepare the EU's next strategic agenda, we must set ourselves a clear goal: I believe we must be ready on both sides by 2030 to enlarge."

2030 – that’s in less than seven years! The reaction to Michel’s proposal: practically zero.

A key role in the enlargement process is played by the European Parliament, as it must ratify the accession treaties with the applicant countries.

We discussed this with the man who oversees this process, David McAllister, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament.

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Euronews: Targeting 2030 for the next round of enlargement - is that a good idea?

McAllister: Well, the procedure for becoming a member of the European Union is very clear. According to our treaties, a country which respects our values and is committed to promoting them can join the European Union in the end. Of course, this means a long process, but all conditions need to be met. So, I would not focus so much on a precise state, but I would always say a country is ready to join the European Union when it is actually ready. And that means in the end, all conditions need to be met. Financial, economic, political and judicial.

Euronews: The European Commission basically shot down Charles Michel’s proposal, suggesting that EU membership is “merit-based” and cannot be sped up. To me, such public disagreement doesn’t seem to be the message they want to send … Your thoughts?

McAllister: I wouldn't overrate these disagreements, both the Council and the Commission, and by the way, also the European Parliament are in favour of other countries joining the European Union. And we all agree that, of course, this process has to be a merit-based process and that each country needs to be assessed individually. In the end, joining the European Union is not a convoy, it's a regatta. And a country that is ready to join the European Union will then be welcomed in our family of nations.

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Euronews: French President Macron has again made the argument that the EU needs to reform itself first before new members can be admitted. How realistic is this, given the fact that the war in Ukraine has stepped up the pressure to speed up the enlargement process?

McAllister: Well, President Macron is right. Yes, the European Union needs to be reformed. Already with 27 member states, it's difficult to organise our organisation, which is still based on rules which were made for nine, 12 or 15 member states. So what we have to do in the next few years is reform the European Union, make it more effective, make it more democratic, make it more engaged, and on the other hand, prepare for the new members. So, you could do the one sitting and the other thing in parallel. We need to reform and we need to support potential member states actually joining our bloc. I believe that the European Union should not be a closed shop, the 27 member states. We should remain open to new members

Euronews: And finally, I want you to take a guess – how many member states will the EU have in 2030?

McAllister: I think that we will use the next seven years to reform our European Union and to support potential member states, and that there will be more than 27 member states. But if this already happened by 2030, this does not only lie in our hands, but in the end it is mainly the task of the candidate country to actually adopt and implement all the necessary reforms.

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Whether Ukraine will join the EU any time soon depends on the outcome of the war – whenever that will be.

One of the rather bizarre episodes of that war came to a definite end this week: the funeral of Yevgeny Prigozhin.

A private burial was held for the head of the Wagner mercenary group in St. Petersburg, following a suspicious plane crash two months after his brief mutiny that challenged the authority of Vladimir Putin.

The circumstances of the crash remain murky. And we may never find out more.

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This week, the Kremlin announced that an international investigation into the crash was out of the question.

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