“We would like to work constructively with Turkey, because we share a common interest in a stable Eastern Mediterranean,” European Council President Charles Michel said in response to a question from TO VIMA in an interview he gave a small group of media outlets in Brussels to mark the 20th anniversary of the 2004 enlargement.

Specifically, in response to a question from TO VIMA regarding the EU’s message to Turkey, a candidate country which stated after the adoption of the April 17 Summit conclusions that it would “never accept an approach that links progress in Turkey-EU relations to the Cyprus issue,” Michel replied that “our message could not be clearer. We had the strategic debate two weeks ago, and I invite you to study the conclusions. Every single word carried especial weight. First, we would like to cooperate constructively with Turkey, because we have a common interest in stability in the (Eastern) Mediterranean. We therefore consider it of fundamental importance that as much progress as possible is made in this sphere, meaning the UN process on Cyprus. When we work with third countries, we take into account the global picture, along with every element that has to be taken into account, and our conclusions are clear.”

It will be recalled that the Summit conclusions stressed that it is in the strategic interest of the European Union to ensure a stable and secure environment in the east Mediterranean and to develop a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey. The European Council has instructed its Permanent Representatives to begin work on implementing the recommendations of the Joint Communication in line with previous European Council conclusions in a gradual, proportionate and reversible manner, while respecting the competences of the relevant institutions and without ruling out further guidance from the European Council. Turkey’s own constructive engagement will be instrumental in progressing the various areas of cooperation identified in the Joint Communication.

In this regard, the European Union attaches particular importance to the resumption and progress of the talks on settling the Cyprus issue, with a view to further strengthening EU-Turkey cooperation. Recalling its previous conclusions, the European Council remains fully committed to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue within the UN framework, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions and in line with the principles on which the EU and its acquis are based. The European Council welcomes the appointment of María Ángela Holguín Cuéllar as the UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy on Cyprus. The European Union stands ready to play an active role in supporting all stages of the UN-led process with all appropriate means at its disposal,” the European Council Communication concludes.

Charles Michel expressed his ambition for the EU to have enlarged further by 2030. He pointed out that when the candidate countries fulfil the prerequisites, this should be acknowledged and the political decision taken. He added that the timeline for some countries could be earlier, for example in 2027, 2028 or 2029.

At the same time, when asked about French President Emmanuel Macron’s choice of words in saying that “Our Europe today is mortal and it can die,” the European Council President noted that he believes “Any democratic project, any democratic model, by nature, is mortal. But this is not a pessimistic view. I am optimistic. I believe we have the strength, we have the tools.”

Turning to what a future enlargement would mean for the EU budget and for the Union’s cohesion policy, Charles Michel explained that “Initially, transitions will be needed, as always. We have experience of this. We can do it.”

He added that “If you look at the size of the Western Balkans, Moldova or Georgia, that’s one thing, but Ukraine’s size makes it another thing entirely. The Western Balkans has 17 million inhabitants, it’s feasible. But Ukraine is a different matter, because it is a larger country of 40 million people.”

“I will share my personal opinion and my personal proposal with you. I think we will need a specific transition for Ukraine, something that is not exactly in the system. Because it is the only example of a country that has to deal with a war and the destruction of infrastructure on a huge scale,” the President of the European Council said.

In relation to concerns about the rise of the far right in Europe, but also about what he could consider the most suitable profile for the presidents at the Commission and the Council with a view to their preparing the guidelines for enlargement during the next term, Mr. Michel said “Let’s see what the results are first. I am sure that all those who believe in the European project will fight politically, with arguments and with ideas, to convince the voters—the people—to make the right choice, which is for a strong European Union, a resilient Union, a more dominant European Union.” But also to ask themselves what would have happened without the Union during the coronavirus pandemic.

As for the heads of the Council and Commission who could lead the preparation of the guidelines on enlargement, he replied that he would be “more than happy, come June, after the European Council meeting, because it will be the European Council’s decision to make, most likely in June or July, after the European elections, to meet with you all and formally communicate who has been nominated.”

Finally, he was asked about the upcoming Hungarian presidency of the Council in the latter half of 2024. “I am extremely relaxed and confident, because at the last Council summit they expressed their intention to be very active in relation to the Letta report. I am convinced that significant progress will have been made by the end of the year, and I am counting on the Hungarian presidency to play a strategic role,” he said.

In addition, the President of the European Council noted that “There is a momentum, there is a process at the Council, and with the Commission there will be the report on enlargement after the summer, and by the end of the year, at the Council we will see the additional steps that will be required, taking into account the progress that has been achieved in the meantime by the candidate countries. So, no, I’m not nervous at all. I would like to stress that even when Hungary had some reservations, we were still able to negotiate, to discuss and take decisions unanimously.”