The Twenty-Seven avoid agreeing on an ambitious commitment for the next major EU enlargement | International

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The EU has realized that it had stepped on the accelerator too hard towards enlargement. This Friday at the Granada summit, the leaders of the Twenty-seven avoided agreeing on an ambitious and concrete commitment on the next expansion towards the East. The process to go from an EU of 27 members to 35 requires major prior internal reforms and for new members to adapt to the standards of the community club. They are “difficult” processes that, in addition, include “substantial” financial aspects, highlighted the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. And they will cause tensions in the already member states, which will mostly become net contributors to support the newcomers; also those who are now beneficiaries.

The EU wanted to be ambitious in its aspiration to absorb the new members, but realism has prevailed. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has warned that accession is based on the merits of each new partner. “There are no shortcuts,” she stressed. It is also a message to Ukraine, with which the EU will open integration negotiations in December, according to several sources, but which after that step may have several years ahead of new and severe reforms.

Several member states, including Spain, and Michel were in favor of establishing in Granada a temporary goal for internal reforms, which would function as fuel to undertake them. There was no intention for this goal to be coined in a declaration, but it did acquire an aura of symbolic commitment, community sources point out. However, the lack of agreement between Member States and concerns about future financing have prevented a concrete commitment from being established. “It is better not to set it, the date is nothing more than an incentive,” said Michel, who, however, a few weeks ago pointed to 2030 as that goal so that the EU would have its homework done. “What we have to do is stop postponing things,” added the president of the Council.

Before setting that key date at the Granada summit, the major event of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU, some partners have requested a prior cost study before establishing the commitment and a clear system of steps with a calendar that outlines the reforms that the EU must undertake; Others have asked to include the option of gradual integration of new members such as Ukraine, the Balkan countries, Moldova or Georgia, which are awaiting the European report in November that will report on progress in State matters. of law and anti-corruption measures prior to accession.

“We are convinced that we have to go much faster,” said the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who has recognized that there are countries that advocate accelerating and others a “more classic” way. “There is a consensus that is emerging to say that we are facing a true geopolitical transformation of our Europe,” said the French leader.

The European Commission is preparing a series of proposals – “ideas”, it calls them – on the necessary reforms for the next major enlargement and will present them in the first half of 2024. The head of the community Executive has also commissioned a study to estimate costs that take the next decade as a parameter. The modification of structures will be extensive: in budgets, in decision-making processes, in agricultural policies; an element, furthermore, that is already raising tensions on the eastern flank of the EU with the crisis of Ukrainian grain that reaches the Union without tariffs and that Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have blocked because they claim that it harms their farmers.

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“Are French farmers prepared for the entry of Ukraine?” launched the ultra-conservative Hungarian minister, Viktor Orbán, touching one of the most historically sensitive buttons. Orbán is the leader most sympathetic to Russia within the community club, and very reticent about Ukraine's future entry. “A country at war has never been admitted,” he said. António Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal - one of the countries that with the current accounts would lose a large amount of funds with the entry of new members - has asked to create an alternative financing program, similar to the permanent recovery and resilience plan, to which Member States that will be left out of the cohesion funds with the next enlargement can resort.

Spain, which hopes that the EU will open accession talks with Ukraine before the end of the year - during its presidency - if it meets the necessary requirements, is one of the most open voices towards enlargement; also for its own historical reality. With another clear objective in sight, in this case sports, the acting president of the Government of Spain has joked that in seven years there may be good and diverse reasons to celebrate: “In 2030, Portugal, Spain, together with Morocco, "We are going to host the World Cup, it is also a good date to celebrate 2030."

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