The Commission’s 2023 ‘Enlargement Package’, published on 8 November, is the most important for many years. At the top political level it proposes the opening of accession negotiations with Ukraine, Moldova and Bosnia-Herzegovina, alongside candidate status for Georgia. The package thus reveals elements of a geopolitical logic, layered on top of the basis of EU values.
At the more technical level it includes an encyclopaedic review of the progress of all (potential) candidate states under all the chapters. While the Commission only summarises this material in qualitative terms, the present paper translates them into quantitative ratings which permits aggregation and a more transparent overall assessment, and objective comparisons between the individual candidate states.
For the present authors, this improvement of the data set would only be part of a more comprehensive reform of the enlargement methodology, for which a ‘staged accession’ approach remains preferable. Interestingly, the Commission makes in effect a first step in this direction with a proposed Growth Plan for the Western Balkans, which would offer financial incentives and accelerated integration into parts of the Single Market for intermediate measures towards compliance with the EU membership conditions. But the enlargement package does not make it clear why the Growth Plan has only been drawn up for the Western Balkans and its embryonic staged accession methodology is not applied to all the East European trio, which now have been put on the same footing in the accession process.
Further changes will have to be made to redress the larger ills from which the existing enlargement methodology suffers. The process of opening and closing of chapters and clusters is too cumbersome with unanimity by all EU 27 Member States still required for every step. The Commission judged that the time was not right for the 2023 Enlargement Package to reform the existing (defective) methodology.
The authors of this report go through a mini-max range of possible improvements to the existing methodology, linking them to ongoing discussions among member states about reforming the treaties to prepare the Union itself for future enlargement. In 2024, the year of the European Parliament’s elections, the outgoing Commission should take up these issues and issue a communication on accession reform which can be implemented without incurring unnecessary delays.
Source : ceps