Germany has proposed a detailed and innovative roadmap to expand the EU that would give candidate countries such as Ukraine early benefits including observer status at leaders’ summits in Brussels before full membership.
The proposals by the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, amount to an offer of integrating candidate countries into sections of the EU long before technical negotiations for membership, which can drag on for years, are completed.
And, in a big political gesture aimed at removing some of the power-play from the enlargement debate, she said Germany would be willing to forgo its guaranteed European commissioner post to make room for new arrivals.
“We have to ask ourselves how can we ensure that the accession process takes place in a way that avoids leaving a generation in the waiting room with the European Union for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Ukraine and Moldova were added last summer to the queue of official candidates comprising Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Turkey, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Georgia in the active application process.
Next week a key EU report will be published on their progress, with a decision on formal negotiations expected in December.
Baerbook’s speech focused on how to unblock the accession process, which she said had become a “no-go” subject for some countries due to worries about the expanded budget, the size of the parliament, and decision-making in a bloc of 35 countries being endlessly roadblocked by a country’s right to veto policy.
Speaking at a conference in Berlin which she convened, she suggested giving candidate countries an opportunity for more active participation in the EU, saying: “What may appear a small gesture or small thing might have a major effect.
“Why don’t we, for example, invite those countries that have finalised individual chapters in the accession procedure to attend the respective council meetings as observers? We would have them there, for example, when we were to decide our common future, instead of inviting them just once every year for them to listen to the progress reports of the commission.
She added: “We should make sure that people of these countries, especially the young people, get an opportunity to participate in the advantages of the European Union at an earlier stage, even before their country becomes a full member here too.”
Ministers from 15 countries including accession states attended the conference, throwing fresh light on their frustrations.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that “Ukraine [had] helped the EU come out of its enlargement coma”, but feared Brussels would end up being sidetracked by infighting over the budgets, the number of jobs countries would lose in the commission or the number of seats countries would have to give up in the parliament.
“We have to avoid a situation when reform of the European Union will be used one way or another as an argument as a reason to delay enlargement,” Kuleba added.
Addressing some of the fears about a phased-in membership, Baerbock said an integration-before-membership process could have checks and balances with consequences for any country that reversed required reforms.
North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, told the conference his country, which has been waiting for almost 20 years to join the EU, had experienced all the “flaws” of the accession process.
The problem was the EU’s “focus on the formal membership itself” and fears over more countries gaining the right to veto policies in certain areas, he said. Baerbock’s proposals could remedy this, he added.
Giving North Macedonia observer status in European Council meetings would give his country a means of transitioning to membership but also “yield the benefits” for citizens “on a daily basis”, Osmani added.
Hinting at Russian disinformation, Osmani said this would also mean voters “would not be susceptible to malign influences who are trying to hijack [the] frustration” his country feels over the EU’s binary process of “all in or nothing”.
Source : The Guardian