The EU’s Expansion: Exploring the Wins and Losses Ahead

The possibility of Ukraine, currently facing Russian invaders, gaining full EU membership is becoming increasingly likely. This development comes four months after the invasion last year when EU leaders swiftly granted Ukraine and Moldova member candidate status, deviating from the bloc’s gradual approach to expansion.

In her recent State of the Union address to MEPs, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined the plan to admit new members into the EU. This decision poses challenges for Ireland and other smaller member states due to the difficulty of reaching agreements on important cooperation initiatives, often hindered by slower-moving states. To address this issue, von der Leyen proposed a series of policy reviews to ensure the smooth functioning of an enlarged EU.

Countries in the western Balkans, as well as Ukraine and Moldova, are expected to join the EU in the near future. However, cautionary lessons from the 2005 enlargement highlight the challenges associated with admitting countries with weak democratic systems and struggling economies, as seen with Hungary and Poland. Additionally, concerns about Russia’s influence in the western Balkans raise further questions.

Despite these concerns, von der Leyen emphasized Europe’s strategic interest in expanding the EU, and pledged to assess the necessary adaptations in various policy sectors. European Council President Charles Michel also expressed support for welcoming new countries by 2030, a sentiment shared by the presidents of Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Albania.

However, membership applications are rigorous and merit-based, with no room for arbitrary deadlines. Ireland explicitly supports the recruitment of new member states, recognizing the downsides that may arise as the EU grows from 27 member states to over 30. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated this support at an EU leaders’ summit, demonstrating the importance of continuing this stance.


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