The most recent enlargement of the EU took place on July 1, 2013, when Croatia became the 28th member state (the leaving by the UK in 2020 decreased the figure to 27). Since then, predispositions to put the enlargement policy on hold had dominated in the EU for a decade. But Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine made the EU to decide in favor of granting the EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova in June 2022. A debate on the acceleration of the process of integrating into the EU the candidate sates and the potential candidates from the Western Balkans was also triggered.
Enlargement is the process by which a state joins the European Union after fulfilling a set of political and economic conditions compliant with the Copenhagen criteria (named so after the European Council’s 1993 Copenhagen meeting where these were defined). The essential conditions that all the candidate countries should meet to become a member include the following criteria:
- political criteria: stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
- economic criteria: a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces;
- administrative and institutional capacity to effectively implement the acquis and the ability to take on the obligations of membership.
Recently, the European Commission recommended opening the accession negotiations with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova and granting the EU candidate status to Georgia. The Commission also recommended starting accession negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina. This assessment by the Commission comes to strengthen the similar recommendation formulated by the European Parliament on October 5.
Combined EU enlargement?
The decision by the institution led by Ursula von der Leyen, which is to be endorsed by the European Commission at its meeting on December 14-15, is a significant step, which couldn’t have been imagined several years ago, towards the enlargement of the European Union, especially as regards the three ex-Soviet states that are treated as a whole from the perspective of accession to the EU.
The principle of combined accession was recently reiterated once again by the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, who considers that Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova should become EU members simultaneously. Zurabishvili stated this in an interview with the national television, which was quoted by the agency Georgia Online. Speaking about the three states’ perspective of joining the EU, Zourabichvili said: “I think it will happen simultaneously. Whether it will be in 2030, 2031, or 2029, I don’t know, but this horizon will be the next one (...). We are a trio, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, and this trio is formed in us.” Zourabichvili also said that the idea of European Council President Charles Michel that “2030 is a horizon being considered for EU enlargement” is “very interesting”.
The past few months, before the publication of the European Commission’s recommendations, the mass media received anonymous statements from European officials, saying that despite the low level of implementation of the conditions, the probability that Georgia will be granted the candidate status is rather high as this is the only opportunity for preventing Tbilisi from moving within Moscow’s orbit. The Georgian authorities said that they implemented at least ten of the 12 reforms recommended by the European Commission. Nevertheless, the Commission’s assessment is fully different – only three reforms were assessed as complete.
A reality check
At the same time, the Western press says the European Council’s upcoming decision about the start of negotiations with Ukraine could be “at risk” as there is no agreement in the bloc to grant Kyiv a further €50 billion in aid, a senior official stated in a conversation with Reuters last Friday.
The agency’s source noted that from regular reassurances that the EU would stand by Ukraine “as long as it takes”, latest discussions in the bloc over further support to Kyiv were a “reality check”. “Leaders... were realizing it’s quite expensive. How do we pay for this?” said the official, who is involved in preparing a December 14-15 summit in Brussels.
A proposal by the European Commission to revise the bloc’s long-term budget to assign another €50 billion for Ukraine through 2027 was criticized from several sides, said the official. “We cannot allow Ukraine to go bankrupt; it’s not an option for us. But it’s not easy,” stated the representative of the EU.
The person further cast doubt on EU starting formal membership talks with Ukraine, saying expectations for a decision at the same summit next month were “at risk”. He quoted as one reason Hungary’s resistance potentially obstructing the unanimity necessary for such a move. The person also said some EU leaders proposed to return to the topic in March, 2024, after the next assessment promised by the executive European Commission of whether Ukraine met the remaining conditions.
“Maybe we have had too high expectations. Will we continue to support Ukraine financially, military? Do we have the means to do this? Are we sure that the U.S. will be following us over the coming years?” the official stated in the interview for Reuters. “It’s not that people have been calling for peace. Individual members have said very clearly that we at some point need an end to this. The consensus is to continue to provide support to Ukraine, but some of those questions are coming.”
Replication of Cypriot precedent?
The European Council’s decision will definitely be based on the conclusions and recommendations of the German-French report on the enlargement and reformation of the European Union titled “Sailing on High Seas: Reforming and Enlarging the EU for the 21st Century”, which will be informally in the focus of the European heads of state and government at the December summit. The report also mentions the Cypriot precedent in the EU enlargement process, saying that: “The accession of countries with disputed territories with a country outside the EU will have to include a clause that those territories will only be able to join if their inhabitants are willing to do so.” In other words, Ukraine will be able to join without the territories occupied by the Russian Federation , the Republic of Moldova without Transnistria, while Georgia without Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
However, the candidate countries from the post-Soviet space will be in different situations if the Cypriot precedent is applied. The situation of the Republic of Moldova is simpler given its dimensions, the challenges and costs of the European assistance for reform, the absence of direct borders with the Russian Federation, even if there is close dependence on the denouement of the Eastern war. For its part, Ukraine is involved in a devastating war with Russia and it is now not known where the Russian-Ukrainian border will de facto be. As regards Georgia, this is a small country situated too far from the European Union, which has a common border with Russia and is managed by a government that is extremely receptive to the messages coming from Moscow.
Against the background of uncertainty about the prospects of opening the accession negotiations with the EU by the trio consisting of Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, suggestions about the necessity of examining the variant of detaching the Republic of Moldova from Ukraine and Georgia in the process of joining the EU started to be formulated in the community of experts in Chisinau. Moreover, for the Republic of Moldova there is the potential variant of joining the EU by putting into practice the project to restore national unity through the political union with Romania. Ukraine and Georgia cannot bank on such a variant.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.