To expand or not to expand? A Pending New Commissioner for EU Neighbourhood and Enlargement

The dawn of a new European Commission is coming. President Jean-Claude Juncker’s team of long-standing politicians are on the spotlight, but have yet to start their performance on the EC stage. The European Parliament still has to decide on whether or not the new Commissioners are fit to handle the challenging tasks ahead of them.

The new Commission aims to further empower its citizens through growth and jobs, speeding up the Old Continent’s recovery process from the most recent financial crisis.

The planned “fresh” start for Europe is marked by a reconstructed Commission with novel features. Things will be different. It is especially true for DG Enlargement that changed name to European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations. This is a strong signal that puts emphasis on a strengthened neighbourhood policy while at the same time putting a five-year hold on any enlargement of the European Union.

Johannes Hahn, an Austrian politician who was Commissioner for Regional Policy under Barroso’s Commission is designated to get the portfolio. Being the Vice President of the European People’s Party (EPP), the strongest faction in the EP, he is likely to pass the hearings by the Parliament without difficulties.

As the outgoing Commissioner for Regional Policy, his five-year mandate focused on providing regional funding and encouraging investments in line with the Europe 2020 strategy to boost the internal market, economic growth and create jobs in the EU.

With great power comes great responsibility. In this new role, Hahn will be responsible for supervising enlargement negotiations, especially in the Western Balkans, despite the new Commission’s reluctance towards further EU enlargement in the near future.

Aside from continuing outgoing Czech Commissioner Štefan Füle’s responsibilities and projects, Hahn is asked to:

  • Develop the EU’s neighbourhood policy as a policy that strengthens peace and stability at Europe’s borders and helping improve the democratic conditions and boost economic growth in the EU’s neighbouring countries.
  • Work closely with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to reinforce the EU’s partnership with Africa and relations with EEA-EFTA countries.
  • Work closely with the Vice President of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights to assist Europe’s neighbours in implementing economic and democratic reforms, with a focus on the situation in Ukraine.
  • Work closely with other Commissioners to ensure that the European neighbourhood dimension is properly demonstrated in the Commission’s activities and projects.

The work of the European Commission in the last decade is marked by the widespread enlargement in the Union, with seven rounds of enlargement and 16 new Member States. Croatia is currently the youngest EU country proclaimed in 2013 under the Barroso Commission.

For Hahn and the new Commission, however, it is quality and not quality or speed that will be the decisive factor in terms of the future enlargement of the Union, thus explaining this “period of consolidation”.

This brings up the issue of the five recognised candidate countries (namely Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey) and other neighbouring countries with a strong pro-European movement (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Ukraine) wanting to join the EU. Will they ever join the Union?

Is the EU’s expansion a burden or an opportunity? The debate goes on.