European enlargement must have something to defend itself with, experts for Euronews

The European Union has to upgrade its enlargement criteria to have a much more intrusive set of requests regarding the security and defense policies of future EU member states. Just as in 1950, the elimination of dissensions between eternal rivals – Germany and France – by initiating the European and Steel Community, today’s situation demands the EU to put foreign and defense policy alignment into the heart of the enlargement process, wrote for Euronews Laurence Boone and Nicu Popescu, council members at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Nicu Popescu is a former deputy prime minister of Moldova, while Laurence Boone is a former French secretary of state for European affairs.

The experts noted that as the biggest war on European soil since World War II rages on the continent and its outcome is uncertain, it is time for the EU to reinsert a sense of history into the usual process of technocratic integration.

It is time to remember that the EU could only be technocratic because of peace. And peace required military power in the shape of alliances and weapons. Weapons helped the democratic West and the EU survive, win, and defend their victories.

The war has forced Europeans to engage, yet again, in a conversation on how to turn Europe into a geopolitical power. But as Europe gears up to do more in defense policy and industry, the way enlargement is pursued also needs to change.

By inviting Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to become candidate countries and accelerating talks with some of the Western Balkan countries, the EU has responded to war by deciding to expand its peace project further.

In addition, Brussels has six more defense partnerships in the pipeline, said a senior EU diplomat (the Republic of Moldova signed the Security and Defense Partnership with the EU in May 2024 – editor’s note) But now the process itself also has to be upgraded.

The existing methodology of EU enlargement has two pillars — monitoring the implementation of the acquis communautaire through accession’s 35 chapters and rigorous monitoring of the so-called fundamentals — justice sector reform, the rule of law and democratic standards.

These cornerstones of the enlargement process need to be kept. But they need to be reinforced with a third, equally fundamental alignment — on defense and security policies.

For most previous rounds of EU enlargement, these aspects were tackled through NATO, and this worked well. However, not all EU candidate countries are on track to join NATO, and significant parts of the US political establishment have strong isolationist tendencies.

Willingly or not, especially if US isolationism deepens, the EU must pursue more ambitious goals in the military field on its own but also vis-à-vis its future members. The EU cannot outsource all the security and defense dimensions of its enlargement to those countries which aren’t in the process of joining NATO, opined the European experts, former national dignitaries.

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