Future of EU Enlargement Discussed in Vienna: Unified Vision Required

PeopleOther ♦ Published: March 7, 2024; 15:21 ♦ (Vindobona)

An event in Vienna, organized by the ERSTE Foundation in cooperation with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), focused on the debate about the future of EU enlargement. Under the title "Beyond Catch-27: How to make EU enlargement work?", leading experts from various fields gathered to discuss the challenges and opportunities of integrating new member states into the European Union.

Boris Marte (ERSTE Stiftung), Hedvig Morvai (ERSTE Stiftung), Engjellushe Morina (European Council on Foreign Relations), Piotr Buras (European Council on Foreign Relations) (f.l.t.r.). / Picture: © eSeL.at – Joanna Pianka

In light of recent moves by the European Council, which opened accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova at the end of last year and granted candidate status to Georgia, the topic of EU enlargement has come back into focus. Progress has also been made in the integration of the Western Balkan states, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Hedvig Morvai, Director of Strategy and Europe at ERSTE Foundation, emphasized the geopolitical necessity of EU enlargement and described it as an investment in Europe's future security and prosperity. Boris Marte, CEO of the Foundation, emphasized that this was an opportunity to constructively shape the debate on a resilient, democratic, and united Europe.

Despite the positive political rhetoric around enlargement, Engjellushe Morina, Senior Policy Fellow at ECFR, pointed out that concrete next steps are still pending. One of the key recommendations of the ECFR policy brief, put forward by Piotr Buras, Head of ECFR's Warsaw Office, is that the EU should offer prospects to candidate countries, including participation in the single market and access to the EU budget, at least until 2030.

The discussion also shed light on the different opinions on EU enlargement in the individual member states, with a skeptical attitude among the population being noted in Austria in particular. Nevertheless, there was a consensus that Austria would benefit from enlargement, as in previous enlargement rounds.

ECFR in favor of enlargement

The policy brief "Catch-27: The Contradictory Thinking About Enlargement in the EU" from ECFR addresses the complexities and challenges of EU enlargement. It emphasizes the geopolitical necessity of enlargement in light of Russia's aggression towards Ukraine, the varying enthusiasm for expansion among EU member states, and the public's shifting opinion on the matter. The document suggests that for a credible enlargement process, the EU must concurrently pursue internal reforms and provide a clear roadmap for candidate countries, highlighting the importance of a merit-based approach and addressing institutional, financial, and rule-of-law challenges.

The event underlined the need for a unified political consensus on the implementation of enlargement to achieve the EU's visionary goals in terms of security, prosperity, and democratic resilience. The discussions and recommendations from this meeting offer important starting points for the further shaping of EU enlargement policy.

ERSTE Foundation