The President of the European Council Charles Michel has set something of an ambitious deadline to add new countries to the European Union.
Speaking to the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, he said that applicants to the bloc should be admitted sooner rather than later.
The Bled Forum is a meeting for regional bigwigs to discuss the pressing issues facing the Western Balkans, where many countries have been long waiting to join the EU.
At the latest meeting Michel promised they would not be waiting for much longer.
“We must be ready – on both sides” he said, referring to both the EU and its applicants, “by 2030 to enlarge”.
Illustrating his apparent confidence in expanding the bloc, he said that “we should now call the [applicant countries] … ‘future Member States’”.
The EU is under pressure to bring more countries on the continent into its fold, as many in the bloc fear that non-EU European nations could come under the influence of powers such as Russia and China.
The drive for enlargement has been accelerated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the months following the outbreak of the war, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia all applied to join in a move to break from Russian influence.
Michel acknowledged so-called “applicant fatigue”: “The slow pace of this EU journey has disappointed many, both in the region and in the EU”, he said. “Europe must keep its promises.”
Any such promises may be easier made than kept.
Many of the Balkan countries trying to join the EU remain trapped in legal, political and diplomatic quagmires. Some that have recently been at war must make peace before joining the bloc.
A case in point is Serbia and Kosovo; while the EU said it had made a landmark deal in normalising relations between the two in the spring, by midsummer ethnic tensions had both countries back on the brink of conflict.
Other examples involve EU Member States blocking their non-EU neighbours from joining the bloc, such as Bulgaria barring North Macedonia over the status of the Bulgarian language in that country. More recently Greece threatened to veto Albania’s bid, citing the status of the Greek minority within Albania.
In July, Michel promised Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan that the EU would fast-track its application in exchange for Ankara granting NATO membership to Sweden. That offer was soon rebuffed by both the European Commission and by the European Parliament.