BRUSSELS – European Union leaders will discuss how to reform the 27-nation bloc to accept new members at a summit in Granada on Oct. 5-6, launching a long process to make the EU ready for enlargement by a tentative deadline of 2030.
Below are the issues that EU officials and think-tanks focus on to prepare the bloc to take in more countries. EU governments are far from agreement on any of them.
The EU decides on most things by qualified majority, but on foreign and security policy, taxes, EU finances, some areas of justice and home affairs, social security, enlargement and changes to EU treaties, a single veto can scuttle change.
Unanimity is already difficult among the 27 EU members and if eight candidate countries join, unanimity among 35 would be even harder. If you add two countries still awaiting candidate status, it would be harder still at 37.
One of the ideas discussed is therefore to decide everything by qualified majority. Another is to use existing special “passerelle clauses” to bypass the unanimity requirement.
Yet another proposal is to change the number of votes needed to form a blocking minority – from the current system of 55% of member states representing 65% of the EU population, to 60% of countries representing 60% of the population.
The EU will also have to re-think the number of seats in the European Parliament and likely also the number of commissioners in the European Commission, where each member state now has one.
The EU funds its policies with a budget equal to around 1% of the EU’s gross national income (GNI), which for 2021-2027 is 1.074 trillion euros. That budget comes mainly from national contributions, customs duties and a share of some taxes.
Around one third is spent on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – mainly direct payments to farmers linked to how much land they own. Another third goes to raise the standard of living in the EU’s poorer regions, effectively transferring cash from richer countries to the poorer.
With 10 new members, all of whom have GDP per capita lower than the EU average and many of whom, like farming powerhouse Ukraine, would be eligible for a lot of CAP funds, the EU will need to re-evaluate what it pays for and how to fund it.
The CEPS think-tank estimates that if Ukraine were an EU member today, it would be getting a net 18-19 billion euros from the EU budget, meaning net contributors to the EU budget would have to pay 10% more than now and Spain would switch from being a small net beneficiary of EU funds to a small net payer.
The Brussels Institute for Geopolitics believes all current net beneficiaries of the EU budget would become net payers after enlargement to 36 countries (they exclude the possibility of the accession of Turkey as politically unrealistic).
One mooted solution is to increase the budget above the 1.0% of EU GNI. To make it easier to swallow for governments, which already complain they are paying too much into EU coffers, it could be done through new, dedicated revenue streams or taxes.
Some also propose that EU countries be allowed to jointly borrow in the future to fund EU activities, a highly contentious idea for member states.
RULE OF LAW
Having unsuccessfully struggled for years with Poland and Hungary over their shortcomings on the rule of law, the EU wants to make sure that before it accepts any new members it has effective ways to enforce adherence to EU values and laws.
The EU can now suspend the flow of EU funds to a country if it can prove that rule of law violations put the proper spending of EU funds at risk, and it has done so with Poland and Hungary.
One idea to strengthen that mechanism is to allow the suspension of EU money not only because it might be misspent, but simply because a government is breaking the rules of democracy such as free and fair elections and freedom of the media, or abusing fundamental rights.
To prevent foot-dragging in the disciplinary process, one of the proposed ideas is that EU governments be required to decide within six months, through a four-fifths majority vote, whether a country is not respecting the rule of law, a decision that would deprive that state of a vote at EU policymaking meetings.
If rule of law breaches continue, there would be automatic sanctions after five years, stepped up after 10 years, including the risk of losing EU membership.
DIFFERENT LEVELS OF INTEGRATION
As the EU grows to more than 30 countries, it will become increasingly difficult for all of them to integrate at the same speed, which would slow the EU’s development to the lowest common denominator. One proposed solution is to return to the long-debated concept of a “multi-speed Europe” and create four circles of integration:
– an inner circle (with deep integration in areas like the eurozone and open-border Schengen area)
– the overall EU itself
– a larger circle of Associate Members, involving participation in the EU single market and customs union, and adherence to common EU principles
– the European Political Community (EPC), as an outer tier for political cooperation without having to be bound to EU law. REUTERS
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