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The Brief – Germany must ramp up its dedication to reform the EU

8 months ago 48

There seems to be a broad consensus among EU countries that enlargement has become a geopolitical necessity. However, the corresponding discussion on reforming the bloc before admitting new members never seems to get off the ground – and Germany is partly to blame.

If you listen to German politicians these days, it would seem that the reform of the EU is already well underway. In yesterday’s Europe conference in Berlin, the host, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, stated that there would be a “once-in-a-lifetime momentum” for enlargement and simultaneous reform.

“Getting bigger does not automatically mean getting stronger. We can only achieve this with reforms that strengthen our structures and our foundations within the EU. It is good that we have now initiated this reform debate,” she told the Berlin conference.

The German Minister for European Affairs, Anna Lührmann, was even more confident, stating that among EU countries, there is a “consensus that the EU has to reform”.

A recent declaration following the informal meeting of the European heads of state and government in Granada last month mentioned EU reform but did not specify what this reform should entail.

“The Union needs to lay the necessary internal groundwork and reforms,” the document said, leaving ample room for interpretation.

Of course, from a German perspective, this vague commitment already seems like a big win. After all, the German government has tried to establish itself as one of the key advocates of reform ever since the new government entered office two years ago.

However, the enthusiasm of other EU members, except France, seems to be quite limited – especially if you compare it to their dedication to the quick accession of the new member states, which was described as a “geostrategic investment in peace, security, stability and prosperity” in the same declaration.

The government in Berlin has so far attempted to overcome the hesitancy by making concessions to smaller member states, adopting an attitude of renunciation when it comes to German interests and organising events and conferences like the one on Thursday.

However, if Germany really wants to get the ball rolling, it will have to take a more assertive stance and clarify one thing: There will be no enlargement unless the EU reforms.

German ministers have so far shied away from such a statement, most likely over fears of alienating candidate countries like Ukraine.

But if Germany, as the strongest advocate for reform, doesn’t adopt such an assertive stance, there is a high likelihood that enthusiasm will evaporate in the long run and leave enlargement stranded.

“We have to avoid a situation where the reform of the EU will be used as a reason to delay enlargement,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at the Berlin conference.

Critics of the reform will be quick to adopt a similar argument. If Germany and other reform advocates don’t clarify now that it is not an add-on but a key precondition for enlargement, this hesitancy will likely come back to haunt them later.

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If you’re looking for more policy news, don’t miss this week’s Economy Brief and the Tech Brief.

Look out for…

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Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Nathalie Weatherald]

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