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Rapid EU expansion


The European Union’s enlargement policy is profoundly affected by the new geopolitical order resulting from the shock wave of the conflict in Ukraine. This new situation calls for a complete overhaul of this policy, particularly with regard to the Western Balkans.

An opinion from Jean F. Crombois, Lecturer in European Studies at the American University in Bulgaria

The granting, last June, to Ukraine and Moldova of the status of candidate countries for accession to the European Union calls into question the foundations of the enlargement policy.

The European Union’s enlargement policy is profoundly affected by the new geopolitical order resulting from the shock wave of the conflict in Ukraine. This new situation calls for a complete overhaul of this policy, particularly with regard to the Western Balkans.

While the June 2022 decision received official support from the Western Balkan countries, they however deplored the fact that both Kosovo and Bosnia were excluded while talks with North Macedonia remained at a standstill. The situation was then partly unblocked with the lifting of the Bulgarian veto conditional on a reform of the Macedonian constitution [see below]. In December, Bosnia was granted the status of a candidate country for membership.

Admittedly, the enlargement policy had been reviewed, after the refusal, in October 2019, to start accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. In the aftermath, France, which was one of the countries opposed to this opening of negotiations, then proposed a revision of the enlargement policy. This revision led the European Commission to unveil, in February 2020, a new enlargement methodology which grants greater involvement to the Member States while including evaluation mechanisms in order to avoid any regression in the areas already closed.

However, this new methodology changes little. Enlargement is based on an essentially technical approach, made up of criteria to be met. Moreover, decision-making in this area is still subject to unanimity, which leads some Member States to export their bilateral problems with candidate countries to European level.

The situation between North Macedonia and Bulgaria is a good example. The historico-linguistic dispute between the two countries has led Bulgaria to be extremely critical of the pursuit of its neighbour’s accession process. This dispute has its origins in the entangled history of the two countries giving rise to the reciprocal appropriation of their national heroes and the demands for recognition of national minorities. To date, the situation is still blocked pending the change of the Macedonian constitution recognizing the Bulgarian minority on its territory. This change is requested by the Bulgarian side for any resumption of negotiations.

Membership constantly postponed

However, granting candidate country status does not imply membership in the near future. Let’s be honest, the political situation in the Western Balkans is not encouraging. Each of the countries has experienced, to varying degrees, a democratic regression, not to mention the disruptive actions of Russia to prevent any settlement of conflicts such as between Kosovo and Serbia or even in Bosnia. In this context, membership of these countries is likely to take place well after 2025, the date mentioned at the time by Jean Claude Juncker, for Montenegro and Serbia. This wait is unbearable for the youth and for the progressive forces in these countries, and can only reinforce the harmful influence of Russia there.

reverse the logic

The solution: reverse the logic. Let us speed up the accession of these countries while considerably strengthening the mechanisms for respecting the rule of law and the fight against corruption within the European Union. We can, in fact, find it difficult to accept, when the member countries are more than in trouble with Brussels in these areas, to demand even more from the candidate countries.

Source: lalibre

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