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The Future of European Union Enlargement
“Enlargement is a vital policy for the European Union. Completing our Union is the call of history, the natural horizon of our Union. Completing our Union, also has a strong economic and geopolitical logic. Past enlargements have shown the enormous benefits both for the accession countries and the EU. We all win.” - Ursula von der Leyen
The European Commission has published their 2023 Enlargement Package on 8 November, highlighting developments in the accession developments for new prospective members. This article will focus primarily around progress regarding Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, due to the strong progress made by each. However, the progress of other hopeful nations will also be reported.
Firstly, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still working on establishing the conditions required for membership, and the European Commission can only recommend accession negotiations once this degree of compliance has been achieved. Albania has continued to present its ability to implement EU reforms and has complied with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), however further efforts are needed to improve freedom of expression, minority rights, property rights, the rule of law and to protect against corruption and organised crime. Similarly, North Macedonia has reaffirmed EU membership as its goal and continues to align with the CFSP, and has worked quickly to improve social issues. The nation must continue to deliver on EU related reforms, such as the strength of the judiciary and the reduction of organised crime and corruption. The Commission has stated that they look forward to a swift follow up, and aims to open accession negotiations by the end of the year. For Montenegro, the negotiations have stalled following deep levels of polarisation and political instability in the country. Until these trends are reversed EU membership will remain out of view. Serbia has continued to implement EU reforms as required for the membership negotiations, however the nation must cooperate and take necessary steps to take accountability for attacks on Kosovo Police on 24 September and on KFOR on 29 May. Kosovo also remains committed to the European path, having denounced Russian aggression in Ukraine – for example. However, neither Kosovo nor Serbia will be able to join the EU as long as their dispute remains. The EU membership criteria requires a new member to have stable relations with their neighbours, as to not inherit a border crisis. Whilst this dispute is not likely to end in the immediate future, this precondition for EU membership will surely act as a driving force for the normalisation of relations. Negotiations with Türkiye have remained at a standstill due to a decision made by the Council. This is due to Turkish democratic backsliding, and a distancing between the nation and the EU’s CFSP. Türkiye will need to make significant realignments towards Europe before any new negotiations will be considered.
There is also the political demand for reform within the EU prior to further expansion. The elimination of the veto, in favour of a qualified majority will prevent the reoccurring political quagmire in which two member states can form a partnership and veto any punitive action against the other – as has been seen in the past with Hungary and Poland. This reform will allow for legislation to pass far quicker, and allow the EU to progress without this obstacle.
Georgia has been awarded Candidate Status following a series of reforms over the past few months. This new legislation has focused around policy actions towards gender equality, reducing organised crime and violence against women, as well as taking account of the European Court of Human Rights. Georgia has also shared an action plan for removing the influence of oligarchs in the country. Additionally, strategies for protecting human rights and enhancing cooperation within civil society have also been put into place. This swift progress is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Georgia as a means to enhance economic potential and grant security against Russia. Following the 2008 invasion, Georgia and Russia have maintained no formal relations. However, Georgia will likely have to resolve border disputes surrounding the lost territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Dmitry Medvedev, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, had suggested in August 2023 that Russia may also annex these territories. Georgia is very unlikely to reclaim them, and may have to renounce these claims before EU membership is granted.
Moldova has made important progress on meeting steps outlined by the Commission, and has launched comprehensive justice reforms. It has reformed its anti-corruption bodies and subsequently has increased the number of investigations and convictions in corruption cases as a result. The state has also introduced a confiscation mechanism in its legislation to help fight organised crime, and has adopted its own plan to reduce the influence of oligarchs. Continued efforts are required, however Moldova also suffers from territorial disputes due to the entity of Transnistria. This autonomous Soviet exclave has its own de-facto government and a population of around 475,000 – according to the 2015 census. This breakaway region must be addressed prior to EU membership.
Ukraine had been granted candidate status by the EU in June 2022, and has made considerable reforms as a result. The country has established judicial reforms amongst government bodies and has adopted legislation drawing it closer to European ideals, such as support for gender equality and minority rights. It has also taken steps to address the influence of oligarchs and corruption – although it still suffers from severe corruption. Naturally, the war is overpowering and has created pushback from certain European governments about Ukrainian membership, namely Hungary. Whilst the war has acted as a catalyst for rapid reform, it has also damned the country to a delayed entry, as existing members may be hesitant to allow the entry of a destroyed Ukraine – citing economic concerns. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian entry into the EU is still far away, and is dependent largely on how the war with Russia ends. The Commission will also report to the European Council by March 2024 regarding the progress of Moldova and Ukraine, to see what future steps need to be taken.
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