Stubb: ‘We need a Constitutional Treaty before further enlargement’

European People’s Party MEP Alexander Stubb favours institutional reform to accommodate further enlargement, but thinks that “absorption capacity” should not be a formal criterion for candidate countries.

The European Parliament is to debate the “institutional aspects of the EU’s capacity to integrate new member states” in a special session on 23 October 2006. In an interview with EURACTIV, Alexander Stubb offered some insights into the EU’s “institutional capacity”. He says that “the Union needs to be ready for each enlargement on three accounts: institutions, budget and policies.” Stubb also underlined that the integration capacity should not be seen as a further criterion for the candidate to fulfil. He stressed that “integration capacity is the responsibility of the current member states, not the applicant states”.

Stubb said that the Parliament’s idea of “institutional capacity” is in line with the Commission’s concept of “absorption capacity”, or “functioning capacity” as Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn put it recently. Nevertheless, he thinks his concept is more focused on the institutional aspect. In this respect, he would like to see more majority voting in the future, in order to facilitate decisions on controversial issues such as enlargement or treaty change.

As favoured by Commission President Barroso, he thinks that “politically we need a Constitutional Treaty before further enlargement”, while also emphasising that the EU’s “absorption capacity” should not serve as a formal criterion for candidate countries such as Turkey.

Read the full interview here.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso believes that an institutional settlement should precede any future enlargement.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn underlined: "We need to build a new consensus on enlargement, which recognises the strategic value of enlargement while ensuring the Union’s capacity to function. The challenge is to improve the functioning capacity of the current EU now, not only the more abstract absorption capacity in the distant future."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "We must keep the promises we have held out to potential candidates, but we also must stick to Copenhagen criteria in terms of EU's capacity to admit new members."

A recent Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) paper argued that the term “absorption capacity” should be dropped, as it gives a pseudo-scientific impression unless defined and deconstructed into more precise and objective elements.

The European Policy Centre (EPC) concluded that a definition of absorption capacity will have little or no impact on the public’s opinion of enlargement.

Frank Viber of the European Policy Forum argued that the debate on the EU's "absorption capacity" is in fact "a diversion" from the real challenges facing Europe today.

With public opinion growing increasingly sceptical of EU enlargement, the debate on the Union’s “absorption capacity” is a hot issue. The Copenhagen criteria for EU membership mention it as an important consideration, but so far it is not a formal criterion.

  • The Commission is to present a paper on “absorption capacity” on 8 November 2006.
  • The Council is expected to debate the issue at its meeting in December 2006.

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