20 years since the EU welcomed 10 new Member States: what lies ahead for those waiting to join our Union

Twenty years ago, on 1 May 2004, the European Union (EU) welcomed 10 new Member States, marking a significant milestone in the pursuit of peace, prosperity, and solidarity across the continent. This historic enlargement not only symbolised the reunification of Europe after the Cold War but also reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to promoting democracy, stability, and shared values across our Continent. As Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia became Member States 20 years ago, their accession to the EU has not only facilitated economic growth and development but has also deepened political cooperation and mutual understanding among all Member States.

Twenty years later, in the wake of Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine and the subsequent reconfiguration of the geopolitical landscape, the imperative to bring in new Member States has re-emerged as a central pillar in ensuring stability and security within the European continent. In addition to the current six Western Balkan countries, Türkiye, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were granted candidate status in December 2023. Recent events have underscored the necessity for the EU to actively engage in expanding its membership as a strategic measure to fortify geopolitical stability. However, this renewed focus on enlargement is not merely about expanding the Union’s borders; it also entails a concerted effort to ensure that bringing in new Member States is accompanied by essential institutional reforms.

To that end, the EU institutions have focused on the importance of integrating institutional reforms alongside enlargement policy. This holistic approach is highlighted in the European Parliament’s draft report “On deepening EU integration in view of future enlargement” which underscores the urgency for concrete actions. This approach is echoed in the recently published report by Enrico Letta on the Future of the Single Market, emphasising the need for a synchronised progression of enlargement and institutional enhancement.

As the EU prepares for the upcoming European Parliament elections between 6 and 9 June 2024, timing couldn’t be more critical. The elections provide an opportunity for citizens across the continent to shape the future direction of the EU, underlining the importance of prioritising enlargement as a means to bolster the EU’s resilience and influence in an increasingly uncertain world.

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 European Movement International’s Position 

Bringing in new Member States is of strategic geopolitical importance, as we argue in our policy positions on promoting peace, stability and investment in the Western Balkans and on the future of European security and defence cooperation. We believe that in offering a clear and credible pathway for candidate countries and aspiring ones, the EU needs to demonstrate its capacity to foster positive transformations and anchor democratic reforms in neighbouring regions. At the same time, a successful enlargement policy represents an instrument that can help the EU counter destructive external influences in Europe and enhance the EU’s democratic functioning internally.

The decision to grant Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia EU candidate status offers a welcome opportunity to take these countries down the path towards European integration; however, we also stress the need for the EU to urgently move forward the accession process with the Western Balkans in full respect of the Copenhagen criteria and adherence to fundamental EU values. Enhanced cooperation with prospective members in the reform and acquis adoption process should be concurrent with the provision of consistent technical and financial support.

As we argue in our policy position on the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), enlargement policy should go hand in hand with Treaty reform. Overcoming unanimity and consequent vetoes is crucial to enabling the pre-enlargement changes to key policy areas and the institutional composition of the EU necessary to ensure the efficient and truly democratic functioning of the enlarged Union. Moreover, Treaty reform needs to be paired with strengthening citizen participation and deliberative democracy, including by enhancing the role of the European Parliament and organised civil society in the EU and in potential Member States in the negotiation and accession process. As the European election’s approach, it is imperative for EU leaders and policymakers to reaffirm their dedication to maintaining an inclusive and credible enlargement process, thereby safeguarding the Union’s relevance and influence on the global stage.




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