Policy paper

How enlargement accomplishes European unity while changing its nature

An original version in French of this article was published in Ifri’s review Politique étrangère, Dec.2022.

Recommended citation:
Maillard, S. 2023. “How enlargement accomplishes European unity while changing its nature“, Policy paper, Paris: Institut Jacques Delors , 2nd February.


The issue of enlargement, which has hitherto been experienced as the achievement of the European project, is now evolving against a new international backdrop. This situation compels the European Union to move beyond conventional legal and geographical considerations, towards a genuinely geopolitical approach to its relations with its environment. The European Political Community is predicated on a remodelling of the continent brought about by the war in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine has pushed the issue of enlargement back to the forefront of the European political agenda. The candidate status that was quickly conferred upon Ukraine, Moldova and lately to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in addition to the accession negotiations that have finally been opened with North Macedonia and Albania, are recent breakthroughs for a policy that appeared to have stalled. Reducing the European Union (EU) from 28 to 27 Member States, Brexit had sent the opposite message to enlargement. Yet is this new momentum to become a long-term trend? Will it strengthen the Union or, conversely, weaken it ?

The enlargement process cannot be dissociated from a broader reflexions on the continent’s unity. The new project for a European Political Community launched by President Macron and for which the very first summit was held is part of this approach. Enlargement challenges the historical, geographical and institutional dimensions of European construction. While it fulfils the European project, it also changes its course.