EU prepares for expansion beyond 30 members

EU prepares for expansion beyond 30 members
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Major policy review announced amid pressures and regional dynamics

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveiled plans for a comprehensive policy review on Wednesday to ensure the European Union can continue functioning seamlessly with an expanding roster of member states.

Von der Leyen underscored that preparations are underway for the EU, currently, 27 nations strong, to grow beyond 30 members, Greek daily Kathimerini and European news sources report. Potential entrants include Ukraine, Moldova, and various Western Balkan nations. However, as the world's largest trading bloc expands, decision-making becomes more challenging, particularly for unanimous votes. Countries like Hungary and Poland have previously faced criticism from Brussels over democratic issues, frequently opposing foreign policy and migration decisions.

Increasing concerns over Russia's influence in the Western Balkans, particularly within Serbia and Bosnia, are adding to the urgency to include more countries. Despite these countries waiting years for inclusion, their progress has been intermittently hampered.

Addressing EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, von der Leyen emphasized, "History calls us to complete our union. In a world where size matters, Europe's strategic interest is evident." She further highlighted the necessity to adapt various policy sectors, like the economy, energy, and migration, in anticipation of the EU's growth.

As the bloc prepares for expansion, discussions about budget allocation, financing methods, and institutional functioning are imperative. Charles Michel, European Council President, and the leaders of Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania echo the sentiment that EU enlargement should conclude by 2030.

Highlighting regional dynamics, these leaders emphasized that membership was paramount given the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine and its ripple effects across the region.

However, von der Leyen reminded that "accession is merit-based," emphasizing the importance of aligning with EU standards over arbitrary deadlines. Ukraine and Moldova recently achieved EU candidate status, a swift move influenced by the conflict in Ukraine. Concurrently, the EU has also acknowledged Georgia's "European perspective".

While Serbia and Montenegro took initial steps towards membership, Albania and Macedonia followed suit last year. Bosnia and Kosovo have only initiated the integration process.

Interestingly, von der Leyen did not directly address Turkey, whose membership discussions, initiated 18 years ago, remain largely stagnant.