Questions to the Commissioner-designate for Neighbourhood and Enlargement
Historically, the EU enlargement process played a powerful role in encouraging the EU candidates and potential candidates to conduct fundamental political, economic and institutional reforms. This has also happened with the Western Balkan countries once they received the EU membership perspective in 2003. However, in the last few years, preparations for their accession slowed down, as a result of limited progress in domestic reforms, unresolved regional conflicts and limited appetite for further enlargement among EU member states.
The mission letter of the President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to the Commissioner-designate Laszlo Troscanyi sets the imperative of sustaining and accelerating enlargement progress for the next five years ‘…through a merit-based assessment of each candidate country, keeping a credible perspective on future accession.’ This is very much in line with our thinking elaborated in the respective memo to the new Commission.
As the near-term task President-elect promises that the new Commission ‘…will stand by the proposals made to open enlargement negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania.’ This is an important declaration and matter of the EU credibility, which should incentivise all EU member states to deliver on the earlier given promises. The case of North Macedonia is particularly urgent because this country waits for opening negotiation already 14 years since obtaining the EU candidate status and recently delivered on the most difficult political conditionality of changing a country’s name.
However, there are at least three questions, which require clarification from the Commissioner-designate and the entire Commission:
- In September 2017 the outgoing European Commission President Juncker publicly suggested that Montenegro and Serbia might join the EU in 2025. The subsequent European Commission communication repeated this indicative deadline. Is the new Commission ready to stick to this date and which concrete measures is it going to take to speed up the accession negotiation process with both countries?
- The unresolved Serbia – Kosovo conflict is an important political obstacle in the European integration process of both countries and indirectly – the entire region. Historically, the Commission has accomplished a partial success in the reconciliation of both countries (the Brussels Agreement of April 2013) but more recently negotiation on further normalisation came to a standstill. How is the new Commission going to do help resolve this historical conflict?
- Western Balkan countries need more development and technical assistance to speed up their economic growth and accelerate reforms. Is the new Commission ready to create new support instruments in the forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework?
The part of the Mission Letter devoted to neighbourhood policy is divided into two parts: Eastern Partnership and Neighbourhood South, perhaps rightly as political and economic developments in both regions have increasingly diverged. However, in both cases, the mission declarations remain very general and it is difficult to find new ideas.
In the case of the Eastern Partnership, the Commissioner-designate is expected to elaborate a new set of policy objectives for this policy framework by mid-2020. What should they contain? Is it a chance that three countries (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) that are implementing ambitious Association Agreements (AAs) with the EU, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, may receive at least distant perspective of the EU accession as it happened with the Western Balkan countries in 2003?
The absence of such long-term policy anchor has been the main weakness of the subsequent cooperation frameworks with post-Soviet countries, which has discouraged them to reform quickly. The Mission Letter only calls for acceleration of the implementation of already existing AAs and deepening sectoral cooperation ‘…where appropriate’.
Another question concerns Eastern neighbours (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus), which do not have AAs with the EU. What is the offer for them?
Even less concrete is the section on Neighbourhood South. The only specific political task for the Commissioner-designate relates to the review and update of the priorities and Association Agendas with each individual partner. What about helping Tunisia, the most democratic country in the Southern Neighbourhood and only tentative success story of the Arab Spring in its difficult reform process? What about helping other countries that try to reform, at least partly, their economic systems like Morocco, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, and perhaps Algeria (if the political transformation in this country opens the door for such reforms). What are the major EU priorities in cooperation with this region?
Neither in the President-elect mission letter to the Commissioner-designate for Neighbourhood and Enlargement nor in the similar letter to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Policy and Security Policy and Vice-President-designate of the European Commission Josep Borrell there is single word on deteriorating security in both regions. Is it not an existential challenge for the EU that should be addressed by the new Commission, which wants to see itself as ‘geopolitical’?
Finally, there is a question on Turkey, which falls between the two categories, that is, EU candidates and just neighbours. The Mission Letter confirms the ‘Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill, and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing’. This is an unavoidable consequence of the authoritarian drift in Turkey’s political system. However, the Mission Letter reminds that Turkey remains an EU ‘…key partner, with common challenges and interests such as on security, migration, economy or trade.’ In this context, is the new Commission going to work on deepening and modernisation of the EU-Turkey Customs Union, a pragmatic step towards closer integration of both economies?
 Dabrowski, Marek and Georg Zachmann ‘Memo to the Commissioner Responsible for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy’, in: Demertzis, Maria and Wolff Guntram B. (eds.): Braver, Greener, Fairer: Memos to the EU leadership 2019-2014, Bruegel, Brussels, September 2019, pp. 254-264, https://bruegel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/MEMO-neighbourhood.pdf
 European Commission (2018) ‘A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans’, COM(2018) 65 final, available at https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/communication-credible-enlargement-perspective-western-balkans_en.pdf
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