Europe’s bad cook no longer hesitates between enlargement and reforms

4 min read

The enlargement of the European Union in 2004, with the accession of 10 countries of Eastern and Southern Europe to the European Union was a real success story. To the great satisfaction of the then President of the European Commission Romano Prodi, the candidate countries performed exceptionally well – after having implemented substantial reforms they fully met all accession criteria. At the end of the long accession process, the applicants’ efforts and achievements were crowned with EU membership which brought equal rights and benefits for them and, new markets for ’Old Europe’. With the arrival of the new Member States, life in Europe has indeed revived and not only in political terms – people’s lives have also changed for the better. Everyone seemed to be pleased. The enlargement of the EU with the Eastern and Southern European countries was a real win-win situation for all sides. With the hindsight of twenty years, it can be claimed that the recipe was perfect.

Two decades on, the EU is once again on the verge of a major enlargement. There is, however, a certain problem, namely, that the Union faces a far more challenging task than that of managing smooth accessions and that is to get its own house in order and to reform its own institutions, its own functioning, its own mechanisms. However, the leaders of the EU in Brussels avoid talking too much about it.

Since the European Commission sends nothing but positive signals and the European mainstream news outlets usually do nothing but echo the Commission’s statements, it may not be obvious to everyone that while the European Union is experiencing an unprecedented series of crises and facing even more serious ones, the European Commission is performing the most shameful act of hypocrisy ever, dressed up in the guise of enlargement.

The Commission’s report published on 20 March under the title ’Communication on pre-enlargement reforms and policy reviews is in fact laying the ground for the pre-enlargement policy reviews announced by the cook of our age President von der Leyen in her 2023 State of the Union address. It’s about von der Leyen who in 2021 revealed that she arranged a multi-million euro COVID vaccine business with an American company in text messages and who received a lot of media attention a few weeks ago for her controversial selection method for a top EU job (small business envoy), which in short can be defined as ’political favouritism’ or ’applying double standards to favour an incompetent German candidate.

However, all this seems to be irrelevant as she wants to make history by replacing the inevitable reform of the EU with enlargement and, some Member States are perfectly happy with this – they slavishly salute the strong-willed former German defence minister, while others simply bury their heads in the sand. Only a tiny minority of Member States dare to criticise the EU leadership and its vision on the future of Europe.

Those who, once again, no one is thinking about are European citizens on the one hand, and on the other, the candidate countries, which are not entering the accession process with the same rights as before. Yet, interestingly enough, these states also prefer silence to criticism, which is only partly understandable.

’Enlargement is in the Union’s own strategic interest. While there are challenges, the benefits of a well-managed enlargement process span across various areas: geopolitical, economic, environmental, social and democratic’, European Commission statement says.

With regard to this cliché, one thing immediately should be added. Frequent mentioning of phrases like ’well-managed enlargement’ or ’well-prepared enlargement’ in the Commission’s statement is quite disturbing given the complete failure of the present Commission in the field of enlargement in the last couple of years. According to the Commission, the accession process must remain merit-based. Taking the example of Ukraine into account and, compared e.g. with Serbia, it’s not difficult to see that though it’s been Serbia which has been performing better while Ukraine couldn’t meet a number of requirements, it’s still the latter one which got a chance to join the European Union in the near future. (When it comes to enlargement, Turkey should also be mentioned – it has been a candidate country to join the EU since 2005 although talks have been at a standstill since 2018.)

In the Commission report, there is only one single point which can be welcomed by anyone who wants a stronger Europe and this is enhancing connectivity. All the other major chapters such as climate and environmental commitments, improving food quality and security, creating the conditions for social, economic and territorial convergence and delivering strong security commitments, migration and border management are shamefully overgeneralised in the document.

A key idea of the document which is described as a suggested EU reform is that in the future the Commission would allow a shift from unanimity to qualified majority voting within the Council in certain areas of foreign and security policy and fiscal policy. According to the EC’s proposal, the number of areas in which the unanimity of the Member States is required to make decisions must be reduced in order to make action more agile – this is particularly the case for the good functioning of the EU with more than 30 member states.

In addition, breaking with the traditional ’all or nothing’ approach, the Commission recommends that future Member States integrate gradually through a process which would also be reversible. The Commission’s revised approach offers increased opportunities for gradual integration of expanding countries into certain EU policies, even prior to their formal accession, or at least that’s what the EC says.

On top of everything, to implement all these reforms, the EC in the future would use the full potential of the current Treaties instead of Treaty change.

By taking these steps, the Commission would, in fact, also counter critical voices within the EU.

For the sake of clarity, the EC’s commitment to enlargement is nothing but an escape from tackling existing problems and facing new challenges, whilst the enlargement of the European Union only serves the interest of the EC to recruit loyal subordinate governments from among candidate countries that are perfectly aware of their non-compliance with EU standards. It should also be noted that, once EU membership has been granted, these governments are ready to accept the ’soft’ option with limited rights and powers offered by the Commission.

’Enlargement is a geostrategic investment’, Vice-President of the Commission Maros Sefcovic said.[10] No one disputes this statement but the fact that some of the candidate countries represent a risk in terms of security or migration cannot be ignored, not to mention what negative consequences could result if such risky countries join the EU. It’s easy to see that if the EU failed to reform its structure made up of 27, more or less risk-free member states then the internal reform of an enlarged EU appears to be hopeless. If this is still a question for anyone, think that the situation in the candidates is far worst in those areas (e.g. corruption) which represent cornerstones of EU values – in terms of rhetoric at least. In this situation, more than ever before, reveals the truth about the Commission’s interest-based policy-making.

If the formula for enlargement applied twenty years ago can be described as a good one, the enlargement recipe proposed by European Commission President von der Leyen as Europe’s ambitious cook can be described as a very bad one. Mixing up enlargement with reforms inevitably results in a cosmic mash. We all know where mash ends up, not to mention the bad cook who served it.

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