Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, Director of EU Studies at Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation)
The decision to create a working group to suggest changes to the EU Treaties and procedures was adopted by the French and German ministries of foreign affairs through a joint declaration released on January 23, 2023. The group gathered 12 of the best known European think-tanks and academia, whose experts worked on the proposal over nine months. What was and how important is the outcome of the study? Let’s also take a look at how the recommendations, if adopted, will affect the enlargement process.
The study aimed to find effective reform solutions to the challenges the EU institutional system is facing. The report issued in September 2023 suggested revision of the EU’s decision making, strengthening of the value-based principles in the EU, and managing a more organized advancement of the EU’s deepening and widening process in light of the increased geopolitical demand for its enlargement. To implement the named changes, the report provided a list of practical steps, some to be taken before the next European elections (June 2024), and others to be taken during the new European legislative term.
The findings of this report are expected to be incorporated into the EU’s Strategic Agenda for 2024-2029. The starting point for the discussion was the commonly shared fact that despite the enlargement becoming a “top geo-strategical priority,” “not all governments agree on expanding the EU towards the Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova (Georgia not mentioned), and the list of questions related to the future development of the Union on which there is no consensus is larger and is growing.” Therefore, the group suggested that “no single country or small minority of countries should be able to hold up progress if others want to move ahead.” This aim definitely serves to prevent the danger of any particular EU member state or group of states (Hungary, Slovakia or others) blocking the enlargement or even deepening the process. The report argues that the EU enlargement needs to go hand-in-hand with reforms that increase its efficiency, its capacity to act, and its democratic legitimacy, so empowering the rule of law.
For geopolitical reasons, EU enlargement is high on the political agenda, but the EU is not yet ready to welcome new members. The report’s recommendations are aimed at achieving three goals:
- Increasing the EU’s capacity to act;
- Strengthening the rule of law and the EU’s democratic legitimacy;
- Getting ready for the EU enlargement.
Before the next enlargement, all remaining policy decisions (which are taken unanimously) should be transformed to Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), so that the majority of countries in the Council, comprising 55% (at least 15 of them), decides on an issue initiated by the Commission or the High Representative. Otherwise, 72% is needed. In both cases, the majority of the population of countries in favour of the decision should be at least 65%. This will have a real effect on the chances of future members states being accepted into the EU, including their stage-to-stage advancement from the European Perspective towards the Accession treaty, preventing these from being hampered by the interests of particular states or small groups of states, as happened before in the cases of Slovenia and Macedonia.
The integration can take differentiated forms, from “Association Membership” (a status suggested for introduction in the report) to the “Inner Circle.” Still, differentiation limits the relationships between the country in question and the Union by the rule of law and core values, so that no country will be accepted in the EU with any status if the core values are not respected.
Objectives of the Reform
The report considers three objectives in the reform:
- To increase the capacity to act;
- To strengthen the rule of law and democratic legitimacy;
- To prepare institutions for enlargement.
To increase their capacity to act, the institutions should maintain/take on the following shape:
- European Parliament maintains 751 seats after the enlargement;
- Introduction of quintets (instead of trio) of presidencies in the Council;
- Rotating the European Commission, which means that not all members states will have representation in the Commission. The alternative is a hierarchisation, introducing the posts of Leading and Ordinary commissionaires;
- Before the next enlargement, all remaining policy decisions should be transferred from
unanimity to QMV;
- Increasing EU-level democracy.
Increased Rule of Law will use stricter budgetary conditionality for safeguarding rule of law in the Union. Further, decisions on suspension of voting rights (for a country which violates the principles) from the Union other by 4/5th. This concerns activation of Article 7 of the TFEU, which affects the countries violating Art.2 (Values of the Union). This may concern again Hungary, Slovakia (not mentioned explicitly in the report) and other EU member states which deviate from the EU’s core values.
How to be ready for the next enlargement?
Compliance with the political accession criteria and EU principles becomes the main precondition for accession to the EU. So, countries like Georgia should bear in mind the need to focus first on the fundamentals in their reforms. Geopolitical considerations need to be taken into account, and this condition will become more influential in the coming years. At the same time, for security and stability reasons, countries with lasting military conflict, according to the authors, cannot join the EU. This vision, if adopted by the EU, will seriously limit Georgia’s ability to join the EU before its internal conflicts are resolved.
More technical assistance is advised in order to accelerate domestic reforms and to increase administrative and absorption capacity. The mentioned increase will most likely concern the countries already negotiating accession. As such, Ukraine and Moldova, but not Georgia, will benefit at this stage.
Managing the enlargement process
The report suggests setting the goal for the EU to be ready for enlargement by 2030, with the candidate countries working to fulfil all accession criteria by then. The goal should be adopted during this instructional term, but the new political leadership after the EU elections in 2024 should commit to the goal of 2030 – that the EU enlargement be ready by then. There are considerations about how to make the process of the next enlargement more easily manageable, among them breaking down the accession rounds into smaller groups of countries (‘regatta’). Georgia, having stepped back from the Trio format, can be affected by this kind of approach, as Ukraine and Moldova may leap ahead with regards the nine principles guiding future enlargement strategies, namely:
- “Fundamentals first”
- Conflict resolution
- Additional technical and financial support
- Democratic legitimacy
Concentric circles of integration
- The Inner Circle: considers participation of certain EU member states in the Eurozone and Schengen Area in the form of deeper integration. In addition, there are already several uses
of Enhanced Cooperation, as well as PESCO in defense.
- The EU: EU Member States are bound by the same political objectives, are required to comply with Article 2 TEU, and benefit from EU common funds and policies.
- Associate Members (not to be confused with the Association Agreements): the different forms of association: EEA countries, Switzerland, the UK. Associate members pay lower level contributions into the EU budget and receive fewer benefits, with no access to EU funds.
- The European Political Community (EPC): will focus on geopolitical convergence and political cooperation. It will not include any form of binding EU law or specific rule of law requirements, and will not allow access to the single market (Azerbaijan, Armenia, etc.).
What should be done and when
|Measures before the EU elections of June 2024||Measures during the next term (2024-2029)|
|Redesigned accession process, including decisions on intermediate phases adopted by QMV.||Better protection of the rule of the law, via a reform of Article 7 TEU.|
|Strengthening the use of the rule of law conditionality mechanism.||Transition to QMV and OLP in all policy areas.|
|Mutual commitment by the EU and the candidate countries to prepare for enlargement by 2030.||Limiting the use of unanimity in the Council.|
|Extending EU competences.|
|Creation of an “associate member” status.|
Instead of a Conclusion:
How the report recommendations (if accepted) can affect Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in their advancement towards EU membership:
|Positive affect||Negative affect (containing risks)|
|Geopolitical criteria justifying the enlargement is promoted and will keep EU interest in enlarging high.||Territorial disputes or internal conflicts are considered as a blocking factor for accession of new members.|
|Qualified majority voting introduced for all decisions at all stages of accession helps to prevent the blocking capacity of certain member states.||Rule of law (“fundamentals”) are considered an even more important condition for the enlargement country, meaning more important than it was before.|
|Financial assistance to the accession process will increase.||Reversibility. The countries which do not comply with criteria and step back in their reforms, or worsen their performance in rule of law, can be lowered in the “enlargement status”.|
|The process of this enlargement should conclude before the end of the next term in EU Institutions (2030). (Positive if the country is able to fulfill the criteria and close the negotiation chapters before that date).|
|EU decision making in general will become more effective and rapid.|
|Newly acceded countries would unlikely be obliged to join the EUROZONE, PESCO or other deeper integration mechanisms, and there will be more opt-out mechanisms for the member states if any policy is not suitable for their country. But they may join some formats (including PESCO) even at the non-member stage.|
 REPORT OF THE FRANCO-GERMAN WORKING GROUP ON EU INSTITUTIONAL REFORM. Sailing on High Seas: Reforming and Enlarging the EU for the 21st Century. Paris-Berlin – 18 September 2023 https://www.politico.eu/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/19/Paper-EU-reform.pdf
 Ordinary Legal Procedure