The meeting of the EU heads of state and government on 14-15 December 2023 is expected to feature tense discussions on EU enlargement, support for Ukraine, and the mid-term revision of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
Even though enlargement policy is the EU’s principal geo-strategic tool for ensuring safety and stability in our continent, it remains uncertain whether the European Council will take up the European Commission’s recommendation to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova. In the letter addressed to the European Council President Charles Michel, Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban resolutely opposed adding the item to the meeting’s agenda. Meanwhile, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia insist on opening accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina this year, calling for a “balanced approach” to enlargement.
Of no lesser importance is addressing the EU budget. Adopted in 2020, the current MFF did not account for the series of unprecedented and unexpected challenges the EU, and the world at large, has faced since then. Thus, on 20 June 2023, the Commission presented three legislative proposals for a revision of the EU’s long-term budget to urgently reinforce the EU budget by €65.8 billion in a limited number of areas and to provide further financial support to Ukraine.
The proposed changes cover a €6 billion Reform and Growth Facility for the Western Balkans, €17 billion in grants and further €33 billion in loans in the Ukraine Facility, bringing the overall additional support for Ukraine to €50 billion, as well as setting up a Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP) and allocating additional funds to address the migration challenges. Derailed by a single state’s ability to unilaterally halt the decision-making process due to the unanimity requirement, Member States have not been able to secure an agreement over the past six months.
Similarly, no consensus has been reached on refinancing the European Peace Facility (EPF), a key instrument to deliver weapons and ammunition to Ukraine and the adoption of the twelfth sanctions package, vital to Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression. Submitted measures would entail new import and export bans, as well as actions to tighten the oil price cap and counter Russia’s circumvention of EU sanctions.
- European Commission: 2023 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy
- European Parliament: Interim report on the proposal for a mid-term revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027
- Council of the European Union: Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 revision: fourth version of the draft Negotiating Box
- 13 December 2023: EU-Western Balkans summit
- 14-15 December 2023: European Council
- 18 December 2023: Environment Council
European Movement International’s Position
As the European Movement International has consistently argued, the plethora of challenges confronting us necessitate structural changes to the functioning of the EU and its decision-making mechanisms, as well as an expansion of its competences in policy areas necessary to deliver the stability and prosperity for citizens and Member States alike.
The strength of the European project lies in unity, solidarity, and determination. The EU can protect its citizens and contribute to international peace and security by adopting a more uniform security and defence policy. Linked to that is the pursuit of a credible enlargement path for the Eastern European and Western Balkan states and the provision of unyielding support for Ukraine in response to Russia’s war of aggression.
Thus, the European Council should start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, following an individual, merit-based approach, in full compliance with the Copenhagen criteria. In this context, the EU needs to rethink the functioning of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and cohesion policies as well as how to finance the EU budget as a precondition for enabling a successful enlargement process.
Moreover, the necessity to mount a cohesive response to the invasion of Ukraine and to swiftly impose sanctions on Russia have shown the need for the EU to react faster and more effectively. As also evidenced by the protracted negotiation process of the revision of the MFF, threatening the continuity of the European financial and military support to Ukraine, the unanimity rule frequently hinders or paralyses the decision-making process.
For these reasons, a comprehensive institutional reform, including the abolishment of veto powers for individual Member States and shifting to qualified majority voting (QMV) in the Council, is a crucial necessity if an enlarged Union is to be capable of responding to emerging challenges and strategically countering external threats as well as addressing attacks on the rule of law inside the EU.