Enlargement delayed. A New Commission without an Enlargement Commissioner?

Back in July, the newly designated President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker noted that “The EU needs to take a break from enlargement” Now, he seems to put this understanding of enlargement into practice by dropping the Enlargement portfolio in the Commission (this report is yet unconfirmed). This would be the first Commission without an enlargement portfolio since 1999 when Günter Verheugen took up the job. Even the Santer commission (1995-1999) had Hans van den Broek focusing particularly Central and Eastern Europe. Without a Commissioner at the table, enlargement is likely to slip further down the list of EU priorities. It would confirm the worry I expressed back in March that the EU risks ‘forgetting enlargement’. http://www.suedosteuropa.uni-graz.at/biepag/node/51

Juncker’s plan from July in regard to enlargement is a bit misleading. Even without ‘taking a break’ there will be no enlargement in the coming five years, at least if the current approach is kept, as Montenegro and Serbia only recently began talks on accession. Thus, it is unclear from his plan whether he is just stating the obvious, i.e. it is technically unlikely/impossible to have enlargement in the coming years or if he is suggesting that enlargement should be further slowed down. The plan argues that “my Presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective”, but it leaves the option open whether new negotiations will be started and whether the EU will undertake an effort to resolve the issues precluding countries from moving towards accession talks.

If it turns out to be true, not having a commission on enlargement suggests that the new Commission might further slowdown enlargement. The main argument given by Junker is honest, it is less about the readiness of the countries in the region, but rather about the readiness of the EU. However, here lies the problem. For one, it is a very self-absorbed understanding of enlargement and the we-first-have-to-absorb-the-new-argument is inward looking. Second, the fact that the EU needs to deal with past enlargements (which is misleading considering that the main problems in past years economically at least stemmed from ‘old’ or ‘older’ member states) now, should not stop the enlargement process. Exactly because there will not be enlargement in the next five years if the current pace is kept up, means that the process should continue at full speed, because in the best case this would prepare members in the next commission, i.e. a wave of enlargement in seven or eight year from now. However, if signals from the new commission suggest a further slowing down, the countries of the Western Balkans will not be ready to join when the EU is ready to accept them.

Just a week ago, Western Balkan leaders went to the Berlin oracle for a conference that was much anticipated and turn-out to be a disappointment. Rather than signaling a new boost of energy for enlargement, it confirmed rather the low level of priority accorded to the region.

The meeting was brief and offered little in terms of substance. Rather than setting a new framework or launching new ideas, it appeared just another stop in the long list of regular meetings of Western Balkan and EU leaders from Dubrovnik to Cavtat, from Bled to Berlin.

The final declaration does include a clear German commitment for enlargement and annual conferences over the next four years to move reforms forward. The emphasis on rule of law, regional cooperation and economic reform are no surprise and largely coincide with the commission agenda. However, the key blockages in the region, from Macedonia to Bosnia are not mentioned and there are no suggestion on how give the accession process more urgency.

Thus, the new commission without a commissioner for enlargement, if confirmed, risks not just being a priority of Junker as Commission president, but broader reflection of the approach from the member states, including Germany.

3 Responses to Enlargement delayed. A New Commission without an Enlargement Commissioner?

  1. Vladimir says:

    I don’t follow the intricacies of the EU closely but isn’t it obvious at this point that it is analytically necessary to distinguish between the EU and the Eurozone. The countries that make up the monetary union face the need to make decisions about further integration – fiscal and financial integration required by a monetary union – that will likely drive a wedge between them and some of the other EU states i.e. the UK and make for tricky treaty negotiations. There is no guarantee that this process will conveniently be concluded within 5 years. Politically it would be awkward to talk to the German taxpayer about Eurobonds, debt mutualization, or forgiving much of Greece’s official sector debt and then say: “Oh, say , what do think about adding Serbia or Montenegro while we’re at it. “

  2. Pingback: Vieraskynä: Herättääkö Turkki uneliaan Euroopan? | The Ulkopolitist

  3. Pingback: Vieraskynä: Herättääkö Turkki uneliaan Euroopan? | Ulkopolitist

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