The contradictory thinking about enlargement in the EU


  • Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine has reenergised the enlargement debate. Most member states now see enlargement as a way to respond to the geopolitical reality and strengthen the EU in its immediate neighbourhood.
  • However, while the geopolitical arguments in favour of enlargement are even stronger today than they were 20 years ago, the process is likely to face more obstacles than it did back then.
  • In most member states, the interest in enlargement is outweighed by concerns about the transformation that institutional reforms could bring about. Possible changes in the EU’s balance of power, the unresolved issue of the protection of the rule of law, and bilateral conflicts are major obstacles.
  • To make a credible offer to candidate countries, the EU should agree on an internal reform process alongside a timeline for the next steps in the enlargement process at the EU summit in December.
  • Regardless of the outcome of the internal reform debate, it should be ready to offer candidate countries at least participation in the single market, access to the EU’s budget, and observer status in EU institutions by 2030.

About the Authors

Piotr Buras is the head of ECFR’s Warsaw office and a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. His topics of focus include Germany’s EU and foreign policy, Poland in the EU, and EU politics.

Engjellushe Morina is a senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. She works from ECFR’s Berlin office. Her work mainly addresses the geopolitics of EU Enlargement, Kosovo-Serbia relations, and the geopolitical aspects of the green agenda.

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