Fewer commissioners and reductions in majority rules: Germany and France point out the route for the next EU enlargement

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More and more gears are turning to prepare the next major enlargement of the EU. Germany and France point to a roadmap of necessary Union reforms to absorb the new Member States. A report by a group of experts commissioned by Paris and Berlin marks some of those radical changes. The two capitals point, among others, to a budget reform, linking payments to partners more strictly to compliance with the rule of law, moving towards a majority voting system instead of unanimity in the European Council and reducing the number of commissioners.

The Secretaries of State for European Affairs of Germany, Anna Lührmann, and of France, Laurence Boone, presented this Tuesday the study, which designs the way in which the new members should enter (there are eight candidates). Paris and Berlin recommend that these accessions be made by groups in a Union that does not have a representative in the form of a commissioner for each State and that includes a redistribution of seats in Parliament so that its size is not overwhelming. As the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has done, the report points out that some reforms can be made with the new integrated countries to favor faster enlargement. For example, when it comes to proposing changes to the treaties, she admits that the most orthodox option, calling an intergovernmental conference, has the risk of generating divisions, and they propose five other options to make changes easier.

“The question of enlargement is no longer about yes or no, or when; but about how,” said the Frenchwoman Boone when presenting the document. She has been supported by her German colleague: “The necessary reforms must be made.”

The text also proposes a substantial change regarding votes and decision-making mechanisms: it proposes restricting the issues in which unanimity is necessary to make decisions and leaving it only for foreign, defense and security policy. Other issues such as tax decisions would be left out. Although certain precautions are contemplated to allay fears in medium and small States, for example, that the current qualified majority goes from the double requirement of 65% of the population and 55% of States to a double 60%.

The Franco-German roadmap places great emphasis on the rule of law, a “central” element of European values, Lührmann explained. This issue has become in recent years an element of confrontation between several of the latest members to enter the Union (mainly Poland and Hungary) and the oldest partners. “It is a non-negotiable constitutional principle for the functioning of the EU (…). The EU cannot function without reciprocity, mutual trust and without all its members adhering to its principles. The report makes several recommendations to strengthen the EU’s capacity to protect and strengthen the rule of law, reinforce budgetary conditionality and improve Article 7 of the EU Treaty through a review of the Treaty,” he points out in reference to the two sanctioning mechanisms. more serious for the rogue States, now very difficult to use, almost impossible in that article 7, which contemplates the suspension of the right to vote.

The document is not an official text that compromises the position of their governments in an enlargement process, Boone and Lührmann have stressed. They have commissioned it and sponsored it in the presentation, but what they are looking for with it is to stimulate debate. It is not a State report, but that also implies that it has great merit because it is an external report from a team of wise men.

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More than 30 countries from 2030

Lührmann explained that the two senior officials delivered this Tuesday to their colleagues in the General Affairs Council of the EU the document they commissioned in January and it has generated a “lively and positive” discussion. “The general consensus is that this debate is needed,” added the German. Both, after admitting that they had sent the document the night before to the other Member States, have pointed out that the European Council in Granada on October 6 will be a good time to open the debate. For this meeting, the European Commission plans to present a report on the evolution of Ukraine’s candidacy for entry into the Union.

“Accepting the complexity of Member States’ different visions for the EU, this report recommends flexible reform of the EU and the enlargement process. Underlines the immediate need to improve the functionality of the EU (…). The most substantial reforms ―including the preparation of the review of the treaties― should be implemented during the next legislature (2024-2029),” write the group of experts, led by the German Daniela Schwarzer and the Frenchman Olivier Costa.

The objective would be to have the EU ready to begin the enlargement process in 2030 – a date that the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, has already spoken about – and to be able to reach a club that brings together “more than 30 countries.” “The institutions and decision-making mechanisms are not designed for a group of up to 37 countries,” the text introduces, which means that in addition to the six Balkan countries that are on the doorstep (Serbia, Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia of the North and Kosovo), the three from the easternmost area (Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia), Turkey is also considered. However, the very proposals launched by the experts propose four levels of European integration: one of deeper integration such as the euro zone and Schengen, another closer to what the 27 are today, “a broader circle of associated members, with participation in the single market and an adherence to common principles” and a fourth that would be the European Political Community.

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