“In a world where size and weight matter, it is clearly in Europe’s strategic and security interests to complete our Union.” On Wednesday, in Strasbourg, Ursula von der Leyen justified and prepared minds for a Europe “of more than thirty”. A formula that the President of the European Commission used several times in her speech on the State of the Union - the last one before the European elections in June 2024.
Enlargement is existential for the future of the EU. And a lot will happen in the coming months. The Commission must deliver its opinions at the end of October on the advisability of opening accession negotiations for the entry of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkan countries into the EU. The Twenty-Seven, who will have a first exchange on the subject in Granada at the beginning of next month, will decide on the next steps at the end of December.
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Candidate countries have a few weeks left to move forward with the requested reforms. “VDL” did not venture to give a timetable, unlike the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who spoke of “a 2030 horizon”, but it nevertheless called on the EU to respond “to the call of history” and to prepare now for the enormous consequences that the entry of new countries would have.
For “VDL”, it is not possible to wait for a hypothetical change in the treaties which will in any case be very difficult to achieve and which is not the preference of the Twenty-Seven. Not to mention that this debate would parasitize the upcoming elections and give fodder to the populists. “This will involve the organization of a European convention and a modification of the treaties. But we cannot – and we should not – wait to modify the treaties to move forward on the path to enlargement,” she stressed, saying she was convinced that “the EU will work with more than 30”.
The Commission will therefore launch preparatory work with the “pre-enlargement reviews of EU policies”. Objective: “to determine whether and how each policy area should be adapted with a view to enlarging the Union”. The key: changes in financial flows between the EU and the Member States, whether the common agricultural policy (CAP) or cohesion, which represent a total of 60% of the European budget. The awakening could be painful, especially for France. “There is no longer a CAP and only one beneficiary for the cohesion funds: Ukraine,” said a European diplomat. The question of the EU's budgetary means to “absorb” these countries will also arise, particularly in terms of defense and security.
“VDL” also wants to see the Member States and the European Parliament take advantage of the 300 days that separate them from the elections to complete all the texts still on the table. As the economy slows in the bloc, the president of the European Commission has positioned herself on the side of businesses, admitting that the "green deal" - her Commission's mantra since 2019 - must not hamper the competitiveness of the EU. Moreover, as she announced, the Italian Mario Draghi is entrusted with a report on this last subject.
Added to this, the trade agreements with Australia, Mexico and Mercosur, or the migration and asylum pact which must be completed while arrivals are now at the level of those experienced by the Union during the 2015-2016 crisis, the mid-term budget review which notably provides for aid of 50 billion over four years for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Given public concerns, this will undoubtedly be a key subject of the campaign. “Let’s show that Europe can manage migration effectively and compassionately. Let’s finish the job!” urged “VDL”. Other issues have, on the contrary, been passed over in silence: the difficult revision of the stability and growth pact that the Europeans must achieve before the end of the year, the reform of the electricity market on which oppose France and Germany.
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During her speech, Ursula von der Leyen was keen to demonstrate that the reconstitution of the blocs and the successive crises had contributed to building a “geopolitical Union” since 2020, supporting Ukraine, opposing Russia, recalling the importance of Africa for Europeans, defending its interests including by being much more assertive against China. Putting words into action, the President of the Commission announced on Wednesday the opening of an investigation into Chinese subsidies for electric cars which are flooding the European market. “Europe is open to competition. Not a race to the bottom,” she explained.