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Juncker to halt enlargement as new EU commission head

The European Union will freeze expansion over the next five years, the new head of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, told EU lawmakers on Tuesday, before his election.

"There will be no new enlargement in the next five years," Juncker said in a speech leading up to a confirmation vote.

"The EU needs to mark a pause in its enlargement process so that we can consolidate what has been done with 28," Juncker said.

The bloc expanded rapidly from 15 to 28 member states in the past 10 years, with the former Communist countries of eastern Europe joining en masse.

Croatia was the last country to join the EU, in July last year, and Serbia began membership talks in January.

Since then the pace of enlargement has slowed, with the prospects for Balkan neighbours also in talks such as Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina uncertain.

"Under my leadership, ongoing negotiations will continue, notably with the western Balkans countries, which need a European perspective," Juncker said.

He also called for the strengthening of partnerships with countries on the EU’s eastern border, such as Ukraine and Moldova, which are caught up in a deep crisis with neighbouring Russia.

Juncker called for a stronger overall presence by the EU on the international scene.

"We cannot remain satisfied with our current foreign policy," he said, adding that national foreign ministries too often "put the brakes on" EU action.