STRASBOURG — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen invoked the “call of history” as she urged Europeans to bring Ukraine into an EU of more than 30 countries, casting enlargement as an epoch-defining decision for the 27-nation bloc.
“The future of Ukraine is in our Union,” the Commission chief declared in her annual state of the union address in Strasbourg, in which she also opened the door to EU treaty change, if needed.
“I will always support this House — and all of those who want to reform the EU and make it work better for citizens. And yes, that means including through a European Convention and Treaty change if and where it is needed,” she said from the podium at the European Parliament.
In fact, the former German defense minister also said the European Union could proceed with enlargement even without a change to the EU treaties — the governing documents underpinning the legal basis of the EU. “We cannot — and we should not — wait for Treaty change to move ahead with enlargement. A Union fit for enlargement can be achieved faster,” she said.
Her intervention comes ahead of a high-stakes debate within the EU on opening up to new members after years of political stagnation on the issue.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor Ukraine has changed the calculus for many EU countries that previously opposed further enlargement, not least France.
Von der Leyen’s stance on treaty change will be especially closely watched in European capitals. While several EU lawmakers have pitched a far-reaching proposal for treaty change, many EU countries are opposed to the idea.
Ultimately EU member countries have the final sign-off on admitting new members to the bloc, though the European Commission gives political direction, and is due to publish an annual scorecard on the progress made by different aspirant countries next month.
She also tasked the Commission to come forward with a series of pre-enlargement policy reviews to prepare for the addition of new members, including an examination of how the Parliament and the Commission would look in an enlarged EU.
European leaders are due to discuss accession at a meeting of the European Political Community in Spain on October 5, and later in the year at their December European Council summit.
Though her comments on treaty change were noteworthy, von der Leyen eschewed the language of technocracy for most of her speech, instead appealing to a wider idea of Europe as she called for Ukraine not to be left behind by fellow Europeans.
“History is now calling us to work on completing our Union,” she said.
“In a world where some are trying to pick off countries one by one, we cannot afford to leave our fellow Europeans behind,” she added. “In a world where size and weight matters, it is clearly in Europe’s strategic and security interests to complete our Union.”