The Irish Times view on the EU summit: the challenges of managing a growing Union

Among the issues to be considered will be how the EU makes decisions and can operate effectively as it grows beyond 27 members

EU leaders at their summit in Brussels have given the nod to what are likely to be long accession talks with Bosnia Herzegovina.

The move comes as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen unveils new proposals involving radical changes in the way countries sign up for membership. Instead of full accession at one moment, von der Leyen is embracing ideas from German and France for gradually easing Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans into the EU single market and other programmes and institutions.

The commission notes, in language echoing the Brexit debate, that single market rights and obligations “cannot be à la carte”. Member states will need to discuss which degrees of access should come with what obligations. But the change would be an important reassurance to acceding countries who now face an onerous and uncertain process that goes on for years.

And the commission returns to a familiar refrain in insisting that enlargement beyond 27 member states will contribute to decision-making gridlock unless member states remove the requirement for unanimity voting, notably on key issues like foreign policy and taxation. That would mean the extension of qualified majority voting (QMV) with, the European Commission paper argues, safeguards built in for issues of vital national interest.

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Such procedural changes can be introduced without treaty changes using the so-called “passerelle” clauses already provided for in the existing treaties. But such reform, understood to be broadly supported by Ireland, would also require unanimity and is likely to prove controversial.

The leaders are also discussing a row over attempts to curb cheap Ukrainian farm imports to the EU in response to widespread recent farm protests. The suspension of tariffs will continue, but only up to certain limits. Critics say that the limits are an attempt to undercut growing support for the far-right ahead of the European elections and run counter to professed support for embattled Ukraine.

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