2030 is a realistic but ambitious goal, says Michel
Having set 2030 as the date by which the EU and the Western Balkans must be ready for enlargement in his address to the Bled Strategic Forum, European Council President Charles Michel told the Slovenian Press Agency in an interview the date was realistic but also ambitious. He trusts there is political will for enlargement in the EU.
"I think 2030 is a realistic but an ambitious goal. We need to do a lot on both sides to make sure that by 2030 we will be ready," he said, noting that this was the first time in the European history that a European institutional leader was this clear about the date.
"It doesn't mean that everything would be easy, but it means that if we have the political will, if we want to work together, if we want to be sincere on both sides, it is possible to achieve real results for the people in the region and within the EU."
Michel is confident that there is political will for enlargement in the EU and that there is a completely different mindset in the European Council than there was years ago.
"When I became prime minister of Belgium many years ago, a member of the European Council, it was very difficult to imagine that at the level of the European Council, at the level of the leaders, we would have serious discussions on the topics of the enlargement, reforms, disputes and the need for the EU to undergo reform to be prepared for this enlargement process."
At the last European Council meeting in June, all the leaders agreed that this will be discussed at an informal summit in Granada, Spain, in early October, he said.
The European Commission will then present an enlargement report, which will be the basis for debate and decision-making at the regular meeting in Brussels in December. He expects "some fundamental decisions on Ukraine, Moldova and some other countries in the region".
The Commission's report, to be presented in October, will be an important incentive for the countries that want to join the EU to make progress and implement the necessary reforms, Michel said.
He stressed that the accession process was based on achievements, so there were differences between the different countries in Western Balkans. "I know that there is a certain level of scepticism, a certain level of doubt because in the last 20 years decisions ... were just made too slowly."
"But I would like to convince my friends in the Western Balkans, not only the elite, not only the leaders, but also the people in the region, that there is more and more the conviction on the EU side that the future of the EU will be safer if we are able to ensure that Western Balkan countries are fully part of the EU and fully members of the EU."
He is convinced this will bring more stability and more prosperity for future generations both in the Western Balkans and in the EU. Michel also thinks everyone would like the accession process to be more progressive, more gradual, so that countries would not have to wait for full membership to enjoy the benefits it brings.
"There will be more tangible benefits for the people in the energy sector, transport, economic cooperation, investment, infrastructure. I think it is very important to connect the Western Balkans as soon as possible," he said.
"The question of enlargement is not only a question of negotiations and administrative procedures. It is about the future of our people, our children in the Western Balkans, in the EU," he said.