Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has unveiled an ambitious plan to expand the European Union (EU), offering candidate countries like Ukraine early privileges, including observer status at leaders’ summits in Brussels, even before full membership negotiations are finalized. This progressive proposal seeks to integrate aspiring members into select segments of the EU, circumventing the often lengthy and arduous accession process. Baerbock’s initiative also includes the remarkable step of Germany willingly relinquishing its guaranteed European commissioner post to accommodate new entrants.
Addressing the pressing need to expedite the accession process, Baerbock emphasized the importance of preventing entire generations from languishing in limbo while waiting for EU membership. Ukraine, along with Moldova, recently joined the list of official candidates, alongside Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Turkey, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Georgia actively engaged in the application process. A pivotal EU report on their progress is set for release next week, with a decision on formal negotiations expected in December.
Baerbock’s speech highlighted the challenges of EU expansion, which had become a sensitive issue for some nations due to concerns about budgetary impacts, parliamentary size, and the potential for a single country to obstruct policy decisions. She suggested granting aspiring members more active participation within the EU, proposing that countries completing specific accession procedure chapters be invited as observers to relevant council meetings, fostering a deeper involvement in shaping the union’s future.
This proactive approach aims to ensure that citizens of candidate countries, especially the youth, can enjoy the benefits of EU membership sooner, even before full accession. The conference in Berlin, convened by Baerbock, attracted ministers from 15 countries, shedding light on their shared frustrations and concerns.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, stressed the urgency of EU enlargement and the need to avoid delays caused by internal disputes over budgets and commission positions. Baerbock’s integration-before-membership concept addresses these concerns with built-in checks and balances, holding countries accountable for necessary reforms.
North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, echoed the sentiment, emphasizing the flaws in the current accession process. Baerbock’s proposals, including granting observer status to North Macedonia in European Council meetings, could provide a smooth transition to membership and daily benefits for citizens. Osmani also highlighted the resilience against malign influences and disinformation, offering a more flexible approach to EU integration.
Overall, Annalena Baerbock’s forward-thinking proposal seeks to modernize the EU accession process, offering candidate countries a tangible path to involvement and a stronger sense of belonging to the European Union.