The need for enlargement and the need for reform were in the focus of a panel discussing the role of the EU as a decision maker at the Bled Strategic Forum on 29 August. While the panellists, mostly foreign policy representatives of EU member states, agreed that the EU must undergo a reform process to be ready for enlargement, they do not see eye to eye on how to go about it.
French Minister of State for Europe Laurence Boone said the Russian aggression, disinformation and attempts to undermine democracy proved there would be no security or stability for the EU or the neighbouring countries without enlargement.
In light of the upcoming European elections, she said enlargement should come as quickly as possible, as the current European Parliament was in favour, which might not be the case after the elections next June.
Talking with the Slovenian Press Agency, Boone said EU enlargement will bring change in policies, governance and budget. An EU which will have 30 or 35 member states will have to be adapted to be fit for the new geopolitical situation.
Boone believes the candidate countries that are making progress in meeting EU criteria should benefit more quickly, which would make the enlargement process more flexible.
Marko Štucin, a state secretary at the Slovenian Foreign Ministry, said that the EU, as it was now, would not be working as well in ten years' time.
Commenting on Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob's saying the day before that reform needed to happen in the next 12 months or else it would not happen at all, Štucin said the sense of urgency came from the fact that the EU elections are coming up next year, meaning the bloc will have a new Commission and a new parliament.
Moreover, negotiations will start on a new financial framework, said Štucin, adding that this would mark the start of events "that will bring us to the question ... what we want from the European Union."
Secretary of State for European Affairs of Portugal Tiago Antunes believes that the discussions about reforms should not revolve around procedural issues but should instead focus on wishes and goals.
But on the other side, Daniela Schwarzer, a member of the executive board of the Bertelsmann Foundation, said that small member states worried about defending their national interests in a larger EU. Every country wants their own commissioner, she illustrated.
For Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, enlargement is a means to growing a bigger and stronger EU, which in turn would make it a stronger decision maker.
The bloc's decision-making capability is in a bad shape, he said, adding that it had lost strength in security, economic impact and energy security.
Szijjarto was adamant that enlargement must take place as soon as possible, even before 2030, a time frame provided by European Council President Charles Michel yesterday.
Meanwhile, Antunes said that reforms needed to be implemented before enlargement took place. They are needed across a wide spectrum of issues and should be viewed not as a hurdle, but as a step needed to create absorption capacity.