The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a new “methodology” for the EU-accession process that is more credible, more dynamic, more predictable and has stronger political piloting.
Laying out the new methodology, Oliver Varhelyi, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, said that “European Union enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top priority for the Commission.”
On Tuesday, the Commission’s spokesperson on enlargement issues, Ana Pisonero, made clear that Europe was not revamping its enlargement policy, but rather reviewing its methodology. The idea is, among other things, to avoid “surprises” like the bottleneck that arose at the October 2019 EU Summit with regard to Albania and Northern Macedonia’s accession bids, she explained.
Despite a positive opinion from the Commission, the leaders of EU Member States had failed to reach an agreement at the summit on the launch of formal accession talks for the two countries, with France leading the “No” group, along with the Netherlands and Denmark. However, other countries had also called, albeit more discretely, for a prior review of the way negotiations with prospective members are conducted and evaluated, the Hungarian commissioner recalled on Wednesday.
One of the member States’ preoccupations was being able to ensure that reforms conducted in countries seeking membership are sustainable and effective, Varhelyi explained.
On Tuesday, Pisonero said the Commission would not propose changes to the conditions for acceding to the EU, which are “very clear” and set in the treaties. The Commission’s aim, she explained, was to inject more dynamism into the dialogue with accession candidates and the monitoring of the reforms required of them, as well as to enhance Member States’ involvement in the process.
During the October discussions, French President Emmanuel Macron had stressed clearly that the accession process should be made “reversible”. The Commission’s new proposal is in line with this call, recommending that, in future, it should be possible to suspend and even roll back the accession process in the event of “any serious or prolonged backsliding in meeting the requirements” set by the EU.
In such cases, “negotiations could be put on hold in certain areas or, in the most serious cases, suspended overall, and already closed chapters could be reopened.”
Where North Macedonia and Albania are concerned, “revised reports” should be drawn up this month on the current state of their efforts.
The Commission is hoping for a decision on the opening of accession negotiations with the two countries ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Zagreb on 6 and 7 May, Varhelyi said.