The European Union and the countries that are candidates for EU membership must be ready for enlargement of the bloc by 2030, European Council President Charles Michel has told the Bled Strategic Forum.
“This means that the EU’s next long-term budget will need to include our common goals. This is ambitious, but necessary,” Michel said.
“It shows that we are serious. It will build momentum. It will give a transformative boost to reforms and it will generate interest, investments and better understanding, and encourage us all to work together,” he said.
The window of opportunity is open and “we need to act on it,” Michel said.
“That is why EU leaders will discuss enlargement at our next European Council meetings. We will take a stand on the opening of negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. And I also expect Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia to be back on the table.”
Michel said that the Western Balkans had made their aspirations clear, and he wanted them to succeed.
“So what will it take?,” he said.
“Values and the rule of law. Our Union is founded on the fundamental values of human rights and dignity, democracy, and solidarity. The rule of law ensures that we can live, work, create and trade fairly in one big area of liberties. In full respect of our diversity. In the EU, each citizen, each business must trust that they will be treated fairly — wherever they live or operate. This includes respecting the rights of minorities.”
Enlargement is and will remain a merit-based process, Michel said.
“Membership of the Union brings both responsibilities and benefits. In order to take on the responsibilities and reap the benefits in a highly competitive environment, one needs to be ready.”
This means making sure the judiciary plays an independent role, he said. And fighting corruption and organised crime. It also means being ready economically — in particular by adopting the EU acquis. And standing with us in foreign policy — more important today than ever.
“Resolving bilateral conflicts from the past may be more painful than reforms. But it is necessary. You are walking the same path as the founding members of our Union. There is no cooperation without reconciliation. And I must say it clearly: there is no room for past conflicts within the EU,” Michel said.
“Your people, especially the young, want to be inspired by a brighter, fairer and more prosperous future. Joining our Union would be splendid proof of a collective success. Ideally, you would all join together.”
Future member states are at different stages on their journey to the EU, Michel said.
“But we need to make sure that past conflicts are not imported into the EU and used to block the accession of their neighbours and other future member states.”
One way could be to add a so-called ‘confidence clause’ in the accession treaties to ensure that countries that have just joined cannot block the accession of future member states, he said.
“To address all these challenges, the EU is strengthening our support for you. But we need to do more to close the development gap.”
First, through gradual and progressive integration into EU policies, so the benefits can be felt more quickly — even before membership. I put forward this idea last year and the European Council supported it.
Another area for gradual integration could be security and defence. “We could invite interested future member states to more actively participate in some policies or instruments, such as CSDP missions, our Defence Fund, or the European Peace Facility.”
The EU also needs to get ready for enlargement.
“I fully agree with President Macron: not reforming on our side before the next enlargement would be a fundamental mistake. Let’s be honest — we have sometimes used the lack of progress of future member states to avoid facing our own preparedness. We must now take a serious look at the EU’s capacity to absorb new members,” Michel said.
This idea is sometimes misunderstood as a hidden obstacle to accession, he said.
“On the contrary, it only makes sense for new member states to join a Union that is efficient. It also makes sense for existing member states — if enlargement creates new opportunities.”
Integrating new members into the EU would not be easy.
“It will affect our policies, our programmes, and their budgets. It will require political reforms and political courage. The EU’s territory and demography will get bigger.”
Yet its relative prosperity will not immediately follow — significant funds will be needed to help countries catch up, Michel said.
“We need to make sure that the EU budget brings European added value for all. The GDP of the future member states is about 50-70 per cent of the smallest EU economy. This means they will be net recipients, while several current net recipients will become net contributors. So we need to work out how to manage this complex transition,” he said.
Since its establishment in 2005, the Bled Strategic Forum, an intergovernmental project of the Republic of Slovenia, organised by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Centre for European Future, has been a leading conference in Central and Southeastern Europe.
It enables representatives of various fields – diplomacy, politics, economics, private and public sector and academia – to discuss key challenges in the 21st century and find innovative solutions to regional and global challenges.
This year, the international conference is held under the title “Solidarity for Global Security”. The 18th forum also includes activities related to raising funds for the victims of the catastrophic floods in Slovenia in August this year.
(Photo via the Bled Strategic Forum’s twitter.com account)
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