EU enlargement and reform: MEPs call for bold decisions
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EU enlargement and reform: MEPs call for bold decisions

The EU needs a long-term political vision and institutional and financial reforms to ensure its capacity to absorb new members, MEPs say in a report adopted on Tuesday.

In a joint report adopted on Tuesday by 56 votes for, 20 against and 6 abstentions, MEPs from the Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Affairs committees stress that the processes for preparing for enlargement should take place in parallel in both the EU and accession countries. European institutional and financial reforms are also needed, they argue, to ensure the EU’s capacity to absorb new members.

Institutional reforms

MEPs call for stronger protection of the rule of law and the EU’s democratic values against backsliding in both existing and future member states, ensuring that enlargement strengthens the Union.

Regarding European institutional reforms, MEPs say the EU should be reformed to act more effectively, including in its decision-making procedures, and move away from unanimity. They stress that the use of flexibility mechanisms, such as passerelle clauses, ahead of a more in-depth reform in the context of a possible revision of the EU treaties, should not prevent constructive discussions on treaty revision.

Institutional pre-enlargement reforms must also address the implications of enlargement on the composition of Parliament as well as a swift revision of the Council’s functioning, such as the system of rotating presidencies of the Council. The calculation of qualified majority voting thresholds should also be reconsidered to improve the balance between larger and smaller states and to set higher thresholds for the most important decisions.

A multi-tier approach

The EU should set concrete individual reform targets, roadmaps and intermediate timelines for each accession country, with no fast-track or fixed pre-defined deadlines for membership as these could affect the integrity of the accession process, according to MEPs.

Countries who make substantial progress on EU-related reforms should be able to gradually integrate into EU common policies, such as the single market. MEPs say such progress should also unlock access to EU funds, bringing clear benefits for the citizens throughout the process. MEPs suggest granting candidate countries an observer status in relevant EU bodies and institutions, including the European Parliament, initially on the basis of temporary arrangements, as well as establishing a separate post of a Commissioner for Enlargement.

They state that differentiated integration is part of the solution for an efficient and deepened enlarged EU, but cannot lead to any weakening of its values. In this light, MEPs note that a broad area of common ground must always be ensured for the Customs Union, the single market and its four freedoms, the core social acquis, and agricultural, competition and trade policies, but EU countries willing to move forward in a wider array of policy areas should be allowed to do so.

Enlargement is both a major financial challenge for the EU, in particular regarding cohesion and agriculture policies, and an opportunity for the reform of these policies, say MEPs, adding that a properly funded Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and a more effective EU budget are needed. This would enable the EU to take on new commitments while continuing to deliver on existing programmes and political priorities.