10 December 2023,   02:22
EU can demonstrate that it is ready to welcome new member states, now it is for the candidate countries to make full use of these opportunities - Varhelyi

The European Union can demonstrate that it is ready to welcome new member states, now it is for the candidate countries to make full use of these opportunities, said the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Varhelyi, in his preliminary remarks at the press conference after the informal meeting of General Affairs Ministers in Murcia, Spain.

“For the EU leaders the enlargement is among the three top priorities that the value of EU membership has never been higher than now.

We have seen an immediate reaction, if you will, a reflex from the 3 countries when this war of aggression of Russia broke out. That they consider their long-term peace, stability and prosperity to be best guaranteed by EU membership. It also means that Europe would also have to reflect on the value of EU membership, and this is why I am very pleased that we are drawing the conclusions. And we are not only drawing the conclusions that we have to make enlargement happen, but we are now swinging to action.

Swinging to action by creating the possibility for enlargement for the candidate countries but also by launching our internal debate on how to deliver enlargement within the EU. Because as you have seen this Commission has always been from the very beginning of this mandate consistently, credibly, and reliably advocate for enlargement. And now, this change in the geopolitics around us demonstrates also to us that the long-term peace, stability and security of the EU will largely depend on the success of enlargement and having and welcoming new members from our immediate neighbourhood in the EU.

Of course, as it has been confirmed also today, that enlargement continues to be a merit-based process. Merit-based, meaning that our candidate countries, our partners also have to deliver on all the criteria to become a member. The criteria that are very well known since Copenhagen, a set of criteria that provides the credibility also for the membership. And this is why, today, we’re not only confirmed but we have also started to discuss how we could support the candidate countries to speed up their delivery of the reforms. And we have started to look into ways that could accelerate the process.

We have seen the topics which were mentioned by the minister. We have seen very interesting debates about the institutional reforms, about gradual integration, and we have also seen the very specific actions we can make. You have seen that we are coming with the new enlargement package which is imminent. In a couple of weeks’ time, you will see us presenting a new way of thinking about enlargement and the package that will now include 10 candidate countries or countries with a European perspective. And in that report, we not only want to move forward but we want to provide the mean for an accelerated integration. And that is going to be our Growth plan for the Western Balkans which should be based on four pillars.

First, to push for and create incentives for reinforce socioeconomic reforms to enhance growth and through that accelerate the accession path of the region. Second, we want to create the opportunity to gradually integrate these countries already in the single market in the four freedoms if you will already before accession. Because this will be for the benefit of both the EU and for the candidate countries. The 3rd pillar of this work would be to also strengthen our work in relation to the reforms on the rule of law and democracy; because of course the credibility of the process is instrumentalized by the notion of having the fundamentals at the core of the enlargement process. And 4th, we want to provide the necessary tools to close the economic and social gap well before accession through reinforced contribution from Europe and financial contribution from Europe to speed up all the reform efforts that these countries are making.

We are convinced that through this, we can put a new tool at our disposal, a new tool through which the EU can demonstrate that it is ready to welcome new member states. It is ready to create the right conditions for welcoming new members and now it is for the candidate countries to make full use of these opportunities.

We have had the first debate on our internal discussions whether there is a need of full reform of our institutions. And if so, what should be our strategy. I think from today the conclusion we draw as Commission is that there is no need for a treaty change to welcome new member states. It is also very clear that the internal debate can go hand in hand and in parallel with the accession process. We are convinced that the two processes can be managed in parallel. And we are convinced that both of these procedures, processes should be concluded in the short term.

One word maybe on the EU’s open strategic autonomy. We have praised very much the report that we have seen from the Spanish Presidency: the Resilient Europe 2030. I think that we are enforcing it when it comes to the priorities put forward by the Presidency and by our own strategic foresight report. Because I think that we have agreed on the key priorities ahead of us also in terms of the next strategic agenda for the EU. It is also very clear that a lot of result has been achieved since the Versailles declaration. We have also summarized it in our own communication, but this is not the time to sit on our laurels. We need to continue. We need to double our efforts to make Europe more resilient, more competitive, make it a more sustainable economy and to make sure that our citizens will enjoy the social European market economy that we have created throughout Europe”, - said Olivér Varhelyi.