EU enlargement: Is the bloc ready for new members?

Courtesy of Deutsche Welle and Image: Daniel Novakovic/Slovenian Government Press Service/AP/picture alliance

Countries from Ukraine to the Western Balkans are busy undertaking reforms to qualify for EU membership. But the bloc has its own issues to tackle before it can roll out the welcome mat. Since February 2022, a new consensus has settled in Brussels: The European Union needs to grow larger. EU members once considered enlargement skeptics now agree that it’s time to start thinking seriously about welcoming hopefuls like Ukraine, Moldova and Western Balkan states into the club.

The shift was prompted by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Before then, loose plans for expanding were Brussels’ favorite proverbial can to kick down the road, passed from one administration to the next while aspirant members such as North Macedonia — an EU candidate since 2005 — jumped through a series of shapeshifting political and judicial hoops to qualify for access without ever exiting the waiting room.

These days, the mindset has changed. As one EU diplomat put it: “Enlargement is a reality now, and it wasn’t a year and a half ago.”

But Brussels has its own homework to do if the political consensus is to become a practical path. “Before you can have a realistic conversation with the countries coming in, we have to figure out what an enlarged EU would actually look like — and that’s as far as we’ve gotten,” the diplomat, who asked not to be named, told DW. “We know the questions but we don’t really know the answers to them.” Read more here