A Template for Staged Accession to the EU

An idea is gaining ground that a system of accession to the EU in stages is now needed to revive and sustain the incentives for the states of the Western Balkans to continue their European integration journey and overcome an apparent impasse over accession prospects. At the same time there is the need to ease the most serious concerns that existing EU Member States have over the prospect of further enlargement. If there can be a broad intuitive appeal for the idea of staged accession, then what naturally follows is the need for a detailed explanation on how this would work in practice, which this paper explores for each of the EU institutions. The picture that emerges is that the EU’s institutions could well lend themselves to the idea of staged membership, with various examples or precedents to be noted, also connecting with the related idea of ‘differentiated’ integration. A successful development and practical application along these lines would do much to restore positive momentum to the European project itself, currently threatened by a damaged reputation, as well as numerous internal and external threats. The paper sets out a substantial institutional, technical and legal basis for a breakthrough out of the current impasse. It remains for political leaders in both the EU and the Western Balkans to signal their interest in such ideas, and thus launch debate at the strategic level so that the institutions can work towards defining a formal proposal. The implementation of the system of staged accession would have to be supplemented by a robust EU policy geared towards the resolution of bilateral disputes and issues of statehood in the region.

Proposed regime:

I – Initial accession stage:
» Conditions:
o Functioning Association Agreement
Application for membership accepted (Article 49 TEU)
o Minimally moderate ratings of [3] for cluster averages

» Funding level [50 %] of Stage III/IV
» Policy dialogue or observer status with the institutions

II – Intermediate accession stage:
» Further condition: mix of moderate to good ratings, minimum average rating of [4]
» Funding level [75 %] of Stage III/IV
» More substantial participation in the policies and institutions (e.g., speaking rights
in the Council and Parliament but no voting rights)

III – New Member State stage:
» Further condition: mainly good ratings of [5]
» Funding level 100 % of Stage IV
» Full participation in the policies of the EU
» Possibility to accede to the Schengen area and eurozone on standard conditions
» Maximum participation in the institutions, subject to limitations in the Council and
» Generalised QMV voting rights in the Council

IV – Conventional membership:
» Full participation in all policies and the institutions on condition that all requirements have been met. This also implies that the EU itself will have worked out solutions for the limitations in participation in certain institutions in Stage III, notably for the Council and Commission.

Find out more in the discussion paper produced by CEP in collaboration with the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS). You can download the paper here. You can find the podcast with the authors of the paper here.