One of the European Union’s three governing bodies, the European Commission, seeks to provide EU states with more say in the admission of additional members to the existing European community. At the same time, a new bonus-malus system for prospect states is now set to be created. Bonus-malus refers to a system of incentives and penalties that are used to promote a desired outcome.

The EU’s Changing Approach To Membership

So far the European Commission has confirmed that all six countries in the Western Balkans will be permitted to join the EU in the foreseeable future. At the same time, however, it has called for the improvement of the effectiveness of the “enlargement process” and “to pay even more attention to the reform of the rule of law.” This emerges from a new proposal for the reform of the EU enlargement process, which the Commission published on Wednesday.

Specifically, the Commission proposes to strengthen the influence of the Member States in terms of the accession negotiations and to introduce a new system that promotes progress in adapting to the standards of the European Unionespecially in the area of ​​the rule of lawthrough accelerated negotiations and additional EU funding. Moreover, delays or setbacks in the reform process are to be sanctioned by cuts in funds or a stricter revision clause.

Membership Negotiations Can Be Suspended

The proposal states: “While progress in reforms should be rewarded more, serious and persistent stagnation or even relapses in the implementation of reforms must also be sanctioned by very decisive measures.” Accordingly, in severe cases, membership negotiations can be suspended, or negotiation chapters that have already been concluded can be reopened or set back to zero.

However, the willingness to work with the EU should also pay off for the candidate countries. The EU Commission document states: “If the countries make sufficient progress on the reform priorities agreed in the negotiations, this should lead to accelerated integration.” Likewise, “increased investments” are possible.

Rule Of Law To Be A Priority

Another new aspect of the Commission’s proposal is that none of the 33 negotiating chapters can be closed if “the goals are not achieved” in the area of ​​the rule of law. The Commission seeks to step up measures on the rule of law and institution building. Results in these two areas will be a prerequisite for greater integration and more general progress.

Additionally, the “negotiation chapters will be organized in thematic groups” and will no longer stand on their own. “Negotiations on each group are opened as a whole … and not based on individual chapters,” the proposal states. Accordingly, only one group with different negotiation chapters as a whole can be closed. There should be a total of six groups: the rule of law, the domestic market; competitiveness and growth; green agenda and sustainable connectivity; resources, agriculture, and cohesion.

More Involvement From Member States On The Accession Process

Another new feature is that in the future, the member states will be able to send their own experts to the candidate countries in order to monitor reform efforts on the ground. So far, this work has been left to Commission officials. “Member States are invited to work more systematically than before on the accession process,” Brussels writes.

The Western Balkans’ accession to the EU is described in the proposal as “geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe.”

Will The New System Work?

Whether or not these new rules, and in particular the bonus-malus system, can work remains to be seen at this stage. It seems unlikely, however, that certain leaders in the broader European community will be willing to succumb their powerful grip on their countries in order to promote the advancement of the rule of law and make EU membership a reality.

Moreover, the EU has yet to solve its very own issues relating to the rule of law. As recent events and developments in Eastern European member states have shown, the sanctimonious demands put forth by the Commission have not even been fully implemented yet by existing members.

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