Brexit Institute News

Event Report – The EU After the EP Elections: Between Enlargement and Reforms and Announcement of DELI

Federica Fazio (Dublin City University)

On 27 June 2024, the DCU Brexit Institute hosted a webinar on “The EU After the EP Elections: Between Enlargement and Reforms”. Featuring a keynote speech by former European Commission President and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, this event aimed to take stock of the recent European Parliament elections. It was followed by the announcement of the establishment of the Dublin European Law Institute (DELI) at Dublin City University.

Prof Daire Keogh (President, Dublin City University) welcomed the audience and introduced Prof Romano Prodi, who oversaw the accession of ten new member states during his tenure as President of the European Commission. Prof Keogh highlighted that eight years have now passed since the Brexit referendum and that it is in that context that the Brexit Institute was established a year later in 2017. He commended the Institute for being one of the University’s flagships centres, spearheading research and policy work on Brexit and European affairs and significantly contributing to Dublin City University’s role as a leading and innovative European university. While Ireland and Europe are still dealing with the consequences of Brexit, since then numerous other crises have arisen, related to migration, the rule of law (in certain countries), the rise of the far-right, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, crises in Palestine and beyond.

It is in this context that President Keogh welcomed the launch of DELI. This newly established institute will bring together 20 international scholars from half a dozen EU member states and beyond. Led by Prof Federico Fabbrini, DELI will work on a range of issues across EU and international affairs. Running on the success of the Brexit Institute, it will be home to a number of internationally funded research projects; it will organise high-level events and provide evidence-based research to inform policy makers, business and wider society.

The moderator, Jennifer Duggan (Dublin Bureau Chief, Bloomberg) then introduced Prof Prodi and the panelists: Massimo Fabio (Partner, KPMG) and Dr Gëzim Visoka (Associate Professor of International Relations, Associate Dean for Research, Dublin City University)

Prof Prodi started his address by recalling his happiest day of his 5 years as President of the European Commission: when he was in Dublin on 1st of May 2004 to celebrate the historic ‘big-bang’ enlargement of the EU. Since then, Prodi believes, Europe has lost its weight in world policy, both in terms of growth and practical impact. Meanwhile, the United States and China have grown exponentially.

The EU is surely still a big economic power, but, according to Prodi, in order to retake its place in the world it needs to change its institutions. The former Commission President called attention to what he described as a very meaningful change that has taken place over the last two decades: the continuous, theoretical and practical, shift of power from the European Commission, the supranational body of the EU, to the European Council, which represents the Member States. This was accompanied by a veto right on the most important decisions the Council takes. Coupled together these two elements, he maintained, have paralyzed the EU decision-making system. As a result, the EU’s role in the world has been eroded because compromise has since become the guideline of the EU. Compromise, however, cannot be the solution in today’s world: it is the problem.

The first goal, therefore, should be to change the institutional structure of the EU. When the EU welcomed 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe in 2004, it was already evident that it was going to have to change its structures. It went from 15 to 25 EU member states, and in later years from 28 to 27 members after Brexit and cannot keep relying on a temporary decision-making process. Change is a necessity if the EU wants to “complete the borders”, but, in order to do that, it also needs to decide where the borders of Europe lie. 

FYROM and Albania, the former Italian Prime Minister went on, should not become EU members in the near future because they would only bring economic problems at this stage. He agreed, however, that Ukraine should become a member, although this would not be without problems due to the dimension of Ukrainian agriculture and the fact that the process cannot start before the war ends. Prof Prodi also stressed the fact that, because unanimity is required in CFSP, there has been no European mediation in the war; Turkey, Qatar, South Arabia have played a role in this respect, but not the EU. The solution, he is convinced, would be to switch to qualified majority voting. Until then, Europe will remain a strong economic power, but will play no role in military or foreign policy. Finally, Prof Prodi mentioned the changing roles of the “two decision-making powers” in the EU, Germany and France. Europe has for a long time been guided by the joint action of German economic leadership and French political leadership. However, a deep shift in military spending has recently occurred in Germany: since the war in Ukraine started in February 2022, the government has significantly increased the country’s defence budget, to the point that it now doubles the French one. Therefore, we are witnessing a strange situation in which decision-making is in the hands of the French government, but Germany bears most of the economic burden militarily. He concluded by stating that a different arrangement must be found, otherwise it will be difficult for the EU to play a role in international affairs.

Dr Massimo Fabio then discussed the impact of the election results on trade policy. He began by stating that the single market represents an important pillar of EU integration, for economic integration as well as Member States’ growth. Internally, free trade with no barriers among member states represents a key EU success. However, he explained how the constant evolution of the single market is often frustrated by excessive regulatory bargain. The practice of adding local requirements (e.g. labelling formalities in the food sector) in each member state, not only increases the regulatory burdens on businesses (especially small/medium enterprises) but also represents a mismatch with the single market’s objectives, creating an uneven playing field across member states.

According to Dr Fabio, to overcome such a threat, EU policies must be tailored for the needs of the environment and the citizens, applying a level playing field. Effective policies should eliminate barriers to the free movements of goods, services, work and capital. A complete homogeneous approach in regulating the four freedoms, he believes, would not impair the benefits of the single market.

With regards to trade with third countries, instead, he highlighted how EU products are very well appreciated by foreign consumers and preferential agreements are the cornerstone of the commercial integration with non-EU countries to eliminate non-tariff barriers and cross-border formalities. He reminded the audience that this approach started originally with close countries, like Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and over the years has been adopted with an impressive number of new trade partners like Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam and, most recently, the UK with the TCA. Enlarging to the Balkans starting with FTAs, he thinks, would be a good opportunity to open the border and open the market. Such an approach should be improved also by finalising an agreement with the US as well for the transatlantic single market. When the TTIP was conceived, under the Obama administration, it was a great opportunity that unfortunately was not taken in the end. He then underscored how EU rules have become global standards on many issues, from data protection to food security. With the recent introduction of the EU Green Deal, new standards and perspectives have been introduced, affecting the supply chain and the EU and non-EU imports program. In the coming years, the EU institution’s greatest commitment will be to make the advantages of the Green Deal’s objectives understood by supporting the member states and all the different users, both businesses and individuals, highlighting the favourable balance between cost and benefits. He stressed that the objectives of the Green Deal should not represent an ideological imposition, but rather be targeted with an intelligent compromise between respect for the environment and adoption of national measures. 

Finally, addressing Prodi’s point about competition with China and the US, Dr Fabio pointed to the fact that it seems strange to, on the one hand, think of adding duties on electric cars coming from China while, on the other hand, providing subsidies to improve and increase the purchase of these products across the member states. He concluded that this will be a new and important challenge for EU institutions. 

Dr Gëzim Visoka then discussed the implications of the European Parliament elections for EU enlargement. He argued that the majority of seats in the Parliament has been retained by the EPP (centre-right) and S&D who have a pro-enlargement stance, along with Renew Europe, towards the Balkans and Ukraine, but not Turkey. The rise of the far right in France and Germany, however, might influence the direction of EU enlargement policy. 

He pointed out that EU enlargement policy has so far been unstable and is likely to remain such in the next 5 years. It is unlikely that new members will be admitted as full members, but more likely as associated or second order members, with limited access to EU markets and decision-making, without the benefits and privileges provided by full membership. 

This is because over the last 20 years the logic of enlargement has not been driven by predictable criteria, but rather by crises and failures. Geopolitical considerations prevailed over normative or other clear rules. This has led to an uncredible performance for the EU in the Western Balkans, where it has not delivered on its membership promise (Croatia was the last country to join the EU). The unexpected acceleration of Ukraine and Moldova’s accession negotiations has led to resentment and feelings of stagnation in the Western Balkans. As a consequence, democratic backsliding has taken place in Serbia and North Macedonia, and there is a feeling of betrayal towards the EU.

In the next 5 years, Dr Visoka believes, enlargement will likely become a more prominent and politicised issue, becoming a trade-off between one group or the other. For example, Viktor Orban’s Hungary has put enlargement among the key priorities of its upcoming Council presidency and wants to push to open negotiating chapters with Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. However, some Western European members fear that this would be at the expenses of the rule of law, democracy and other criteria. Therefore, there is a risk that some countries might turn against enlargement because of it being associated with non-democratic groups in the EU. Also, he highlighted that Orban supports enlargement in the Western Balkans, but not in Ukraine and Moldova. There will be winners and losers of the enlargement process. The winners, according to Dr Visoka, will most likely be Ukraine and Moldova, not for meeting merit-based criteria but for their sacrifice and exposure to Russia’s aggression. As for the losers, they will most likely be Kosovo, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Albania. In the best-case scenario, Montenegro might join by 2030, with Albania and North Macedonia being next in line.

Dr Visoka stressed that a well-prepared enlargement is one of the key pillars of the EU strategic agenda for 2024-2029. No significant leap forward should be expected, but much will depend on who the next Commissioner for enlargement will be. The nomination of former Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as HR/VP is a very positive sign because she might be able to bring together the enlargement and conflict resolution portfolio and advance both of them. He concluded by stating that EU enlargement will require radical change and reform, as Prof Prodi stated, but also bold decisions. The abovementioned countries should not be considered as a burden but an added value for European security, prosperity and growth.

Following an engaging Q&A session brilliantly moderated by Ms Duggan, the event moved to its second part: the announcement of DELI. 

Prof John Doyle (Vice President for Research, Dublin City University) started by remembering that when the Brexit Institute was launched by Prof Fabbrini on the first anniversary of Brexit, it was supposed to be a 2–3-year project. However, 7 years later it remains highly relevant. The Brexit Institute has played a significant role in discussions about Northern Ireland and its staying in the single market. The mix of diplomatic, legal, political and historical perspectives offered by the Law and Politics of Brexit series has contributed to putting on the table the legally and politically sound approach that was eventually favoured in the Withdrawal Agreement. With the establishment of DELI, Brexit will be framed inside a broader agenda of issues that contribute to the shaping of the European integration process.

Prof Derek Hand (Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dublin City University) provided further details on the DELI and the themes it will seek to explore. By creating a critical framework to discuss themes that are real world issues and concerns, the Institute will surely have a significant impact, he stated. He then thanked Prof Fabbrini for his continued energy and focus on the mission of Dublin City University, which is to transform lives and societies.

Dr Kenneth McDonagh (Head of School of Law & Government, Dublin City University) echoed comments made by Prof Doyle and Prof Hand. He specified that the DELI will be institutionally located in the School of Law and Government, which he currently heads. 

He then commended Prof Fabbrini for his leadership of the Brexit Institute and now DELI and for putting Dublin City University on the map, not just at the national level in terms of debates on the present and future of Europe and Ireland, but also at the European and global level.

Prof Federico Fabbrini concluded the event by thanking his colleagues for their kind words and explaining why this is the ideal time to launch DELI: European elections have just taken place and a new EU institutional cycle is beginning; the EU announced the formal opening of accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova a couple of days before this launch event and the European Council is to decide on top jobs on the same day. He then went on to explain that DELI will be a prime hub for research and scientific collaboration in the field of European law and policy. The Institute will focus on 4 core thematic areas: 1) EU Institutional Affairs, including governance and integration, defence and security, enlargement and withdrawal; 2) Law and Technology, including privacy and data protection, AI and innovation and the green transition; 3) Economic Affairs, including trade and industrial policy, banking and finance, the internal market and competition law; and 4) Human Rights and the Rule of Law, including fundamental rights, non-discrimination, migration and democratic backsliding. 

He emphasised that DELI will build on the success of the Brexit Institute, whose work over the last 5 years has pivoted beyond Brexit and towards EU affairs more broadly. He clarified that DELI will exist alongside the Brexit Institute and contribute to give more visibility to this growing body of non-Brexit related issues that the Institute has been undertaking. REBUILD, the Jean Monnet Centre focused of the Next Generation EU, and BRIDGE, the Jean Monnet Network which explores EU multiple crises will continue to be housed by the Brexit Institute.He also mentioned that the Institute has recently been awarded a major EU grant, which will be officially announced and disclosed in the coming weeks. 

Prof Fabbrini concluded the announcement by pointing out the deliberate humour in choosing DELI as an acronym. In the United States and the Anglo-Saxon world, a “deli” is a shop where people can find fine food and typical delicatessen. The Institute, he stated, will be a new kind of “deli”, offering food for thought on EU law and policy.

Federica Fazio is a PhD candidate at the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University.

The views expressed in this blog post are the position of the author and not necessarily those of the Brexit Institute blog.