Global Europe Brief: A ‘new dawn’ for EU enlargement?

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In this week’s edition: Ukraine’s candidate status, food crisis woes and Western Balkan enlargement frustration.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has revived a process that has been deemed dead.

But EU leaders will need to ensure that not another nail is hammered into its metaphorical coffin when they meet for an EU summit later this month.

The European Commission is expected to give its formal opinion on Ukraine’s membership bid on Friday (17 June). The matter will then be debated and formally decided on by the Council at the summit on 23 and 24 June.

It is true that the enlargement process in the Western Balkan countries has been rather more problematic than that of the Central European countries prior to 2004.

Since then, the EU has opened membership negotiations with two Western Balkan states (Montenegro and Serbia) and Turkey.

It also gave the green light for accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, although they are still waiting for talks to start, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo remain potential candidates.

But for the process, there are two key points we must not forget.

One is that EU enlargement, first and foremost, is a geopolitical process, and the decision to be made by EU leaders later this month should be seen as such.

The EU’s leadership has been fast to recognise the region’s strategic importance and the link between calculated investment and geopolitics is a clear means to keep the Western Balkans close. This is especially important when the EU’s competitors are vying for influence in the region with next to no strings attached.

Similar thinking can be seen in the Associated Trio countries, but with one main difference.

Granting EU candidacy status to them means survival. It gives them a new geostrategic objective to firmly anchor themselves with Brussels rather than constantly having to watch their back for Moscow’s next step.

Bottom line is, that if the EU does not reconsider its enlargement policy, more European countries could fall prey to Russian aggression or influence.

Secondly, EU enlargement is a lengthy process.

EU accession is open-ended and does not guarantee membership if application countries fail to meet the Acquis Communautaire and procedural expectations. They will need to work on the deliverables but can only do so if the process is actually started.

Ukraine’s short-term future is about survival and rebuilding, which will take precedence over the fact that it has adopted a fair amount of the EU’s legal framework since agreeing to its trade and political partnership with the EU nearly ten years ago.

None of these countries believes they can join tomorrow.

But saying ‘no’ or ‘sometime later’ might make all the effort, work, and investment that’s been done to bring these countries closer, null and void.

We, Europeans, sitting comfortably inside a peaceful, prosperous bloc, tend to underestimate how powerful the symbol of an unfurled EU flag can be in countries that for too long have been shaken by turmoil and external threats.

What is the cost of not moving ahead?


UKRAINE LATEST

  • Zhovkva: We don’t deserve a ‘Bosnia scenario’ on EU candidate status. Failure to grant Ukraine EU candidate status later this month would signal to Russia Europe’s weakness and could plunge the country into the perpetual enlargement waiting room, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s foreign policy adviser, Ihor Zhovkva, told EURACTIV.

Zhovkva: We don't deserve a 'Bosnia scenario' on EU candidate status

Failure to grant Ukraine EU candidate status later this month would signal to Russia Europe’s weakness and could plunge the country into the perpetual EU waiting room like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s foreign policy adviser, Ihor Zhovkva, told EURACTIV.

  • Von der Leyen makes surprise visit to Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s EU bid. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a surprise visit to Kyiv, the second trip to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion, to discuss Ukraine’s bid to join the EU with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
  • Ukraine makes diplomatic push to win over EU accession process doubters. Ukraine has launched a charm offensive in recent weeks to convince the still sceptical Western European capitals to grant the country EU candidate status and avoid the pitfall of being lumped together with two other hopefuls, Moldova and Georgia.
  • Food security in times of crisis. Food security has become paramount since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has sent the agrifood sector reeling. Ukraine cannot count on Putin to honour his word and grant safe passage to grain vessels, German agriculture minister Cem Özdemir said during a visit to Kyiv. Meanwhile, despite an adequate and friendly global response, the only option to restore grain exports from Ukraine is to win the war, Ukraine’s deputy agriculture minister told EURACTIV.
  • Hailing Peter the Great, Putin draws parallel with mission to ‘return’ Russian lands. Russian President Vladimir Putin paid tribute to Tsar Peter the Great, drawing a parallel between what he portrayed as their twin historic quests to win back Russian lands.

EU IN THE WORLD

TRADE PUSH | After more than eight years of stalled negotiations on a comprehensive EU-India trade agreement, the two are set to formally restart talks from 17 June, with the aim to strike an agreement before both head to the polls in 2024.

HUNGER HOTSPOTS | Acute food insecurity will likely deteriorate further in 20 countries – so-called ‘hunger hotspots’ – over the coming months, according to a new report from the world’s major food organisations, who warn the current situation is already worse than during the 2011 Arab Spring.

MIGRATION PACT | The EU’s long-stalled efforts to reform its asylum policy achieved a small breakthrough this week when France said “a large majority” of member states backed a migrant relocation plan.

DEFENCE CORNER

NATO MINISTERIAL | NATO defence ministers are set to meet this week in two sessions, one on deterrence and defence and burden-sharing and the other being a joint session with NATO partners EU, Finland, Sweden, Ukraine and Georgia.

The elephant in the room will be NATO membership and whether Turkey will drop its opposition to Helsinki and Stockholm’s bid. For many observers, it is remarkable how Ankara, a NATO member and country that claims to aspire to join the EU one day, is currently positioning itself vis-à-vis Russia.

On the sidelines, the third meeting of the Ramstein group in support of Ukraine is set to be held. Expect more on what weapons Western countries pledge to supply.

PHANTOM PLANE | A small aeroplane toyed with the nerves of the air defences of six NATO members before landing in a small airfield in Bulgaria earlier this week, whereby the pilot and passengers promptly disappeared.

ARMS WOES | During communism, the Romanian state was one of the world’s top exporters of arms, with a 230,000-strong workforce. Nowadays, the public sector employs just 10,000 people, its factories are in debt, and stakeholders are uncertain about the future.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

WAITING ROOM | The EU’s stalled accession process has become a security issue amid an increase in the influence of foreign players in the vulnerable Western Balkans region, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski told EURACTIV in an interview.

North Macedonia's PM: We wish Ukraine good luck but for us, the EU didn't deliver yet

The EU’s stalled accession process has become a security issue amid an increase in the influence of foreign players in the vulnerable Western Balkans region, North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski told EURACTIV in an interview.

MEMBERSHIP BID | Kosovo will apply for EU membership at the end of this year and if it files its application, only Bosnia and Herzegovina will remain a potential candidate as Serbia and Montenegro are opening chapters.

SANCTIONS ALIGNMENT | While EU candidate Serbia has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations, it so far has refused to impose sanctions against Moscow. Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Belgrade to join in.


WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 


ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS…

  • Kultaranta Talks, hosted by Finish President Niinisto with NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg
    | Sunday, 12 June 2022 | Naantali, Finland
  • SIPRI report on nuclear weapons in the world
    | Sunday, 12 June 2022 | Stockholm, Sweden
  • Foreign Affairs Council (Trade) on margins of WTO ministerial
    | Sun-Wed, 12-15 June 2022 | Geneva, Switzerland
  • Swedish PM Andersson host NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg
    | Monday, 13 June 2022 | Harpsund, Sweden
  • French President Macron visits Romania, Moldova, (Ukraine?)
    | Tue-Wed, 14-15 June 2022 |
  • Czech government presents EU presidency logo, priorities
    | Wednesday, 15 June 2022 | Prague, Czech Republic
  • UN war crimes investigators speak about findings
    | Wednesday, 15 June 2022 | Kyiv, Ukraine
  • US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hosts Ukraine Defense Contact Group
    | Wednesday, 15 June 2022 | Brussels, Belgium
  • NATO defence ministers meet ahead of Madrid summit
    | Wed-Thu, 15-16 June 2022 | Brussels, Belgium
  • Yemen International Forum
    | Friday, 17 June 2022 | Stockholm, Sweden

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PAST EDITIONS

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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