EU Enlargement: The EESC is the first EU institution to involve EU candidate countries in its work, turning a political priority into reality

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On 19 September, the EESC decided to involve representatives from the civil society of EU candidate countries in the advisory work of the Committee by appointing the "Enlargement Candidate Members (ECMs)". The EESC is now the first EU institution to take such an initiative and open its doors to the candidate countries, facilitating their progressive and concrete integration into the EU. The Members will participate in the preparation of the EESC opinions and Plenary meetings, that focus on enlargement.

A political priority of EESC President, Oliver Röpke, the initiative has been positively received by the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European External Action Service (EEAS), as well as other relevant actors.

EESC President Oliver Röpke said: "The EU candidate countries need more than empty words. They need concrete action. Today, the EESC is taking a landmark decision, showing them that we are a credible partner, one that can deliver on its promises. It is a truly historic moment and I welcome the support of this house, of Commissioner Várhelyi and other EU partners, in turning this political priority of mine into action. We will now work closer than ever with the civil society in the candidate countries, so that the Enlargement Candidate Members can start their work as of 2024."

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has given the European Union new impetus for enlargement, as clearly marked by European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, in her 2023 State of the Union Address. In this context, civil society plays a vital role in building democratic resilience, monitoring the state of human rights, and supporting European integration.

Enlargement Candidate Members

The Enlargement Candidate Members (ECMs) will be selected by the end of the year. The selection process will be carried out in cooperation with the civil society organisations in those countries as well as International and European civil society organisations. It will take into account their expertise and independence, and ensure respect of gender balance and youth organisations representativity.

The Enlargement Candidate Members (ECMs) will start their advisory work as of 2024, participating in the entire life-cycle of an EESC opinion. A first dedicated EESC Plenary session is foreseen for July 2024. The objective of the Plenary would be to take stock of the implementation of the initiative and to conduct a "health check on human rights and democracy" as well as the conditions for civil society in the candidate countries.  The ECMs would provide input for the EESC opinions, that focus on issues of particular importance to candidate countries and the enlargement process.

Through this participation, civil society groups in candidate countries will be able to see first-hand how European civil and social dialogues works and use these principles nationally. They will also have an opportunity to better understand upcoming EU laws that they will need to align national rules with. In turn, EESC opinions will better reflect the challenges and priorities candidate countries face in important policy areas and benefit from their expertise.

The indicative timeline:  

  • October – December 2023 – Selection process of ECM
  • December 2023/January 2024 – Launch event
  • March – April 2024 – Setting-up of first study groups with ECMs
  • July 2024 – EESC Plenary with the participation of all ECMs