European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this in her State of the Union address at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, September 13, according to an Ukrinform correspondent.
"In a world where some are trying to pick off countries one by one, we cannot afford to leave our fellow Europeans behind. In a world where size and weight matters, it is clearly in Europe's strategic and security interests to complete our Union. But beyond the politics and geopolitics of it, we need to picture what is at stake. We need to set out a vision for a successful enlargement," she said.
She noted that the development of the EU could be considered complete with over 500 million people living in a free, democratic and prosperous European Union, with vibrant democracies in which judiciaries are independent, oppositions are respected, and journalists are protected. In this regard, von der Leyen said that the rule of law and fundamental rights would always be the foundation of the EU.
"This is why I am very happy to announce that we will open the Rule of Law Reports to those accession countries who get up to speed even faster. This will place them on an equal footing with Member States," she said.
She recalled that the EU enlargement process over the past decades had been a period of economic success and improved lives for millions of people. The next steps of EU enlargement should also be a success story, but this path will not be easy. It will also build on the achievements of candidate countries.
"It takes hard work and leadership. But there is already a lot of progress. We have seen the great strides Ukraine has already made since we granted them candidate status. And we have seen the determination of other candidate countries to reform. It is now time for us to match that determination. And that means thinking about how we get ready for a completed Union. We need to move past old, binary debates about enlargement. This is not a question of deepening integration or widening the Union. We can and we must do both," von der Leyen said.
She said the next enlargement must also be a catalyst for progress.
"We have started to build a Health Union at 27. And I believe we can finish it at 30+. We have started to build European Defense Union at 27. And I believe we can finish it at 30+. We have proven that we can be a Geopolitical Union and showed we can move fast when we are united. And I believe that Team Europe also works at 30+," she said.