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EU must reform before enlarging further

The Constitutional Affairs Committee says the European Union needs to develop its institutional, financial and policy structure before any further enlargement can take place.

This comes in a report adopted on Monday evening on the institutional reforms required to improve the EU's capacity to integrate new Member States. The report by Alexander Stubb, approved by 17 votes in favor to 1 against with 2 abstentions, acknowledges that the Union is currently confronted with "difficulties to honor its commitments towards South-East European countries" and calls for a series of institutional changes to improve its "integration capacity".

The notion of "integration capacity" implies that, after any new accession, the EU institutions are able to function properly and democratically, to adequately finance their activities and to attain their political objectives. Therefore, MEPs in the committee say that the Union should decide on which reforms are needed to proceed with a new enlargement by taking into consideration the impact of the new Member State on its institutional and decision-making structure. The Nice Treaty, says the report, does not provide "an adequate basis for further enlargements."

MEPs stress that the "integration capacity" should not be seen as a new criterion for candidate countries, since it is up to the EU to improve its ability to accept new countries and deepen its integration process. MEPs also say that all past enlargements have "tended to strengthen the Union, foster its economic growth, reinforce its role in the world and stimulate the development of new EU policies." As far as the reforms are concerned, MEPs' proposals include: the adoption of a new qualified majority voting system at the Council to simplify decision making; a clear definition of the EU's values, objectives and competences; more transparency in Council's operations; increased powers of scrutiny for national parliaments and the adoption of a clause setting out how Member States could leave the EU.

MEPs also adopted an amendment calling for reinforcement of the European Neighbourhood Policy to provide a framework for relations with those countries with no prospect of accession. MEPs in the committee reiterate their conviction that a constitutional settlement must be achieved before the next European Parliamentary elections in 2009. They reaffirm that the Constitutional Treaty would enhance the Union's integration capacity if ratified. (EP Press)