EU enlargement and security will be the main challenges for the next EP - experts

  • 2024-06-04
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - The main challenges of the new European Parliament (EP) will be the enlargement of the European Union (EU) and security, Vineta Kleinberga, researcher and lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Riga Stradins University (RSU), and Aleksandra Palkova, guest lecturer at RSU and Head of the EU Program at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs (LAI), told LETA.

Kleinberga noted that there are a number of Western Balkan countries that are quite close to the conclusion of accession negotiations. Therefore, it is a question of the EU's capacity to accept new members, which will have to be resolved if not in the next five years, but certainly by starting a debate on how the EU will accept new members and what is needed to do so. This will also raise questions about the institutional reform of the EU itself - how many seats each country will have in the EP, how decisions will be taken in the European Council, whether qualified majority voting needs to be extended on certain issues.

"Moreover, it is one thing to have the Western Balkan countries and their eligibility assessment and potential admission, but another - we are big supporters pf Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia gaining EU membership. Of course, we will have to keep an eye on developments in Georgia. The debate on pre-accession assistance in the form of financial or other programs, on possible incentives for these three countries will remain, and this is an issue that the EP will have to discuss," said the researcher from the Faculty of Social Sciences of RSU.

Palkova pointed out that the European Commission (EC) is currently going through the so-called screening procedure, where both Ukraine and other potential member states are assessed in order to start accession negotiations themselves. The most contentious issues are how to proceed with EU enlargement, i.e. whether it will be an enlargement that allows future Member States to join the EU in certain areas, as has been the case with Montenegro, Albania and countries that have benefited from EU membership while they were still integrating into the bloc. In her view, it is also a question of how to further develop enlargement policy itself, how not to lose the way forward, but this will not only depend on the EP, but also on the next EC and Commissioners.

She underlined that Member States generally have different visions on support to Ukraine, as it needs not only humanitarian but mainly military support. At the moment, it is clear that one country is more willing to support Ukraine than another. This is not only the case in France, but also in Germany, Italy and Spain, where support for Ukraine is gradually starting to wane as the EU itself faces economic growth problems.

Kleinberga stressed that one big issue on the agenda of the next EP and the new EC will also be EU fiscal rules. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the conditions for countries' external debt were relaxed. The EU itself borrowed on external markets for the first time, which had never happened before. Now it is time to start paying back the debts and somehow bring the European fiscal space back into the frame. While the European Central Bank will have a big job to do here, it is also up to the EU Council and the EP to lay down the rules and enforce them.

Migration and asylum will also be high on the agenda. Kleinberga pointed out that the EU has been debating this for years, some kind of model has been established, but it has not been fully endorsed and it has been criticized that the migration and asylum system is making Europe more of a fortress - people find it quite difficult to enter and stay in Europe and thus Europe is facilitating the humanitarian crisis in the world.

"Data shows that the number of migrant deaths trying to reach Europe over the past year has again reached a record high, following the migrant crisis of 2015. There is a perception that the EU is seemingly going against its principles by not letting people into Europe and sending them back. With the EP expected to become more right-wing, the issue of migration and anti-migration, Europe's hardening against external migration, could remain on the agenda," said Kleinberga.

Energy could also be one of the main issues to be tackled, despite the fact that there may be a desire to slow down Europe's green course. Kleinberga pointed out that Europe is committed to ending its dependence on Russian fossil resources, but there must be something in its place. A series of regulations have been adopted to increase the use of wind and solar energy, to develop batteries so that energy can not only be produced but also stored. There are also a number of initiatives and innovations in the use of hydrogen. Energy efficiency is being given increased attention to avoid unnecessary waste of energy resources.

Kleinberga admits that the implementation of the European Green Deal will be split into parts and that energy initiatives will probably continue as before. However, elements of the circular economy, agriculture, more sustainable food, biodiversity and, in particular, land management and use could be transformed. She reminded that there has been much debate on the Nature Regeneration Regulation. The EU is not only required to protect a certain amount of land, but also to restore degraded areas. The Regulation was hotly debated in both the Council and the EP, which resulted in a compromise that is less ambitious than at the outset.

On foreign policy, the challenges for the new EP will not only be the war in Ukraine, but also the situation in the Western Balkans with the growing influence of Russia and China in the region, and the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East. In her view, this is a controversial issue where each EU Member State represents its own national position, which divides the bloc. This will require a long-term strategy from the EU on China and Taiwan, Russia and Belarus, Africa, Latin America, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where European interests need to be redefined.