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Lunch Debate: Strategic stepping stones and stumbling blocks on the road to EU enlargement


This IEP-Lunch Debate addressed the relationship between EU enlargement and reforms at the time of the December European Council meeting. Enlargement and reforms should go hand in hand, but which reforms are necessary and how they should be implemented is controversial.

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine gave new impetus and urgency to the debate about enlargement of the European Union with up to 10 potential new Member States. But for EU enlargement to be successful, both the new Member States and the EU must be prepared. The discussion about institutional reforms of the EU to maintain its capacity to act and ensure the rule of law, especially in the case of enlargement, is heated. And while some ask for a European convent with the aim of treaty change, others remain sceptical about the necessity even of reforms that are possible within the existing legal framework.

Various suggestions exist on what reforms should look like. The expansion of qualified majority voting (QMV), for instance to the common foreign and security policy, could be realized within the current treaties, but meets criticism especially in smaller Member States. Additionally, suggestions are on the table to reform the rule of law mechanisms before and after joining the EU, to make the enlargement process itself more flexible, and to reform the EU’s budget. Looking at the individual candidate countries, it is also clear that certain European policies, such as agricultural and cohesion policy, require reforms before accession.

The lunchtime debate took place while the European Council was meeting in Brussels on the 14th of December 2023. The discussants hoped that the European Council would send signals of clear commitment to EU enlargement.

Discussants at the lunch debate were Prof Dr Tanja Börzel, Professor of Political Science at the Free University of Berlin, Bernd Hüttemann, Secretary General of the European Movement and Prof Dr Funda Tekin, Director of the Institut für Europäische Politik.

The IEP thanks the Federal Foreign Office and the European Commission for their support of the lunch debates.


Team & authors

About the Europe talks project: The IEP's Europe Talks bring together citizens, decision-makers, academics and civil society to discuss challenges and perspectives on European integration. In this way, they promote the debate on European policy in Germany.

Image copyright: iStock/Jacoblund