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Good morning. The EU’s enlargement debate will take a significant step forward today with the release of a France and Germany-backed proposal paper laying out some ideas on how the bloc should prepare itself for new members. Our Brussels correspondent has the details.
Plus, our Italy team reports on plans to expand the country’s network of migrant detention centres, even as existing facilities are condemned as woefully inadequate.
France and Germany will introduce proposals on EU enlargement this afternoon, as discussions on how its institutions can adapt to the accession of Ukraine and other members gather pace, writes Ian Johnston.
Context: Russia’s war in Ukraine has sparked a Zeitenwende in EU thinking towards enlargement. But while there is now widespread support for welcoming new member states, many believe this should be accompanied by reform of how the union works.
Laurence Boone and Anna Lührmann, Europe ministers of France and Germany, will introduce a report presented by a dozen French and German researchers, on the sidelines of a ministerial council in Brussels today.
Their vision for the future of the EU includes the expansion of majority voting to almost all member state decisions, stronger rules on rule of law and democracy and the expansion of the EU’s budget, although no figure has been set for the increase.
The report — previously reported by Contexte — suggests giving the EU more powers to withhold funds from member states that breach requirements on rule of law. Reinforcing the bloc’s main compliance tool would require changes to the EU’s treaties.
The ideas are likely to form the foundation of discussions among all the EU’s 27 leaders at an informal summit in the Spanish city of Granada early next month.
While Boone and Lührmann commissioned the report in January, it has been developed independently of the bloc’s two largest states and has involved input from both current member states and accession candidates, said Thu Nguyen, a fellow at the Jacques Delors Centre and one of the authors.
Though designed to prepare the bloc for enlargement, the changes are also necessary owing to the “difficult context” in which Europe finds itself, said Nguyen.
“Everyone we reached out to was interested in the process and discussions,” she added. “There’s always a suspicion [about Franco-German initiatives] but it’s about what Europe needs, rather than what France and Germany need.”
Ministers from the bloc’s existing member states will digest the report over lunch, after a morning debate when they are expected to withhold approval for a Spanish proposal to include Catalan, Galician and Basque among the EU’s official languages, several diplomats said.
Chart du jour: Exposed
As resentment swirls around suspicions that Brussels’ subsidies probe against Beijing benefits French rivals, German carmakers are in the line of fire of a possible EU-China trade war.
Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni has pledged to build more detention centres for illegal migrants — and to hold prospective deportees in such facilities for longer — to deter people trying to come to Europe via Italy, write Amy Kazmin and Giuliana Ricozzi.
That is a grim prospect for migrants detained in these privately run facilities, whose squalid conditions have been repeatedly criticised by an independent government oversight agency, and even prompted detainees in one facility to set fire to their premises during a riot.
Context: Nearly 130,000 irregular migrants have come to Italy across the Mediterranean so far this year, up from around 68,000 in the same period last year. These surging arrivals are a political headache for Meloni, who had vowed to curb such inflows.
Italy currently has 10 repatriation detention centres with a combined capacity to hold just 800 people whose asylum claims have been rejected and are thus deemed illegal migrants liable to deportation.
Italy’s longstanding policy allowed authorities to hold illegal migrants for a maximum of 135 days while trying to organise their repatriation, or they had to be freed. In 2022, nearly 6,000 illegal migrants were detained in these centres, of whom just 3,154 were eventually repatriated.
However, Meloni’s government has approved changes that will allow illegal migrants to be detained for up to 18 months — the longest allowed under EU rules — prior to deportation, a bleak scenario for the inmates held there.
Italy’s National Authority for the Rights of People Deprived of their Freedom, which monitors various types of detention centres, described the conditions at the repatriation centres this year as “critical and degraded” both in terms of maintenance and hygiene.
Residents had nothing but beds, were barred from communicating with the outside world, and, the authority noted in a report, bathrooms were notable for “widespread decay and filth”.
In March, one of the biggest of the existing 10 facilities was temporarily shut down, and the operator’s contract cancelled, after inmates set fire to the facility to protest terrible conditions.
What to watch today
EU general affairs council meets in Brussels.
French and German EU ministers release enlargement paper, press conference at 1515.