Can the EU still be saved from its own attraction? The Russian attack on Ukraine reinforces calls for rapid dual expansion: east and south-east.
After the lightning visit by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Kyiv, calls for Ukraine to become a candidate for membership at the summit at the end of June are getting louder. The tormented people there need hope.
In the days before, similar calls for more speed and more determination accompanied Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s trip to the West Balkans. The people there also need a clear perspective.
Some states such as Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia soon waited two decades to be admitted. And Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo on candidate status. The EU must do something to counter the influence of Russia and China.
Who needs the EU’s attention more urgently now: Ukraine or the Western Balkans? What should be at the core of the two rapprochement processes hardly plays a role in the debates: when will the respective countries be able to join? And how will the EU become receptive?
Because that should have been made clear by the choking on EU sanctions, Ukraine aid and the unresolved problems in the dispute over the rule of law: an EU that expands to over 30 members without first reforming its decision-making mechanisms would deal its own deathblow.
The EU states can only decide on key issues unanimously. In practice, this gives every member the right to veto – and thus the possibility of blocking the Union.
With the narrative of the hesitant EU, those aspiring to join are distracting from their own failure to reform. As a symbolic act, the granting of candidate status to Ukraine has its value. But it doesn’t get them into the EU any faster.
Sympathy with an invaded country is not intended as a criterion for who becomes a candidate. The war is more of a reason for caution.
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The argument that the Western Balkan countries have been waiting for so long is similarly ambiguous. The patience of its citizens with the EU is exhausted.
Conversely, it becomes a shoe: the negotiations have been taking so long because the candidates are so slow with their reforms.
It should also serve as a warning to the EU how much sympathy for Russia many people in the Balkans express, despite the murderous attack on Ukraine. And with what carelessness countries like Montenegro make themselves dependent on China.
Be it Ukraine or the Western Balkans: the EU cannot generate the pace in terms of prospects for admission. The dynamics of change must come from the candidate countries. They must want accession so badly that they decide on the necessary reforms and the necessary reorientation in their value system and in their geopolitical positioning.
The EU should divert the pressure to absorb created by the war in Ukraine into pressure for reform in the candidate countries. She doesn’t have to decide who she’d rather have in earlier.
She can encourage the aspirants to engage in constructive competition: let’s see which of them will make faster progress towards being ready for membership.
Conversely, it must reform its decision-making mechanisms. If each of more than 30 members had veto power, it would be their death.