Failure is not an option when it comes to EU enlargement

The author is editorial director and a columnist at Le Monde

Conceived as a peace mission within the twentieth century, the EU managed to develop, in dimension and substance, by means of the top of the chilly battle to the early years of the twenty first century. The going bought powerful in 2010 with the sovereign debt disaster. For the previous decade, the union has gone from one disaster to a different, efficiently overcoming all of them, together with the mom of all EU crises, Brexit. However the problem now looming, pressured by Russia’s imperialist aggression, is of one other dimension.

No one is aware of what absorbing Ukraine, a rustic of round 35mn inhabitants devastated by a brutal battle, into the EU will seem like. It’s an unprecedented endeavour which, if carried by means of, will deeply remodel the bloc. This can be a pivotal second for Europe. However what is going to it pivot to?

Not a single EU chief dares any extra to talk out towards the prospect of enlargement to accommodate Ukraine and Moldova. It might be for worry of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s very efficient behavior of naming and shaming Europe’s reluctant warriors. It could possibly be out of admiration for the power expended by the Kyiv authorities, pushed by native NGOs, in fulfilling the circumstances set by the European Fee as a part of the nation’s EU candidate standing.

To Ukrainians, the prospect of becoming a member of the EU has change into the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel — a matter of survival. You don’t take this hope away from folks bravely preventing a battle and defending your values.

This objective was formally endorsed by the EU’s 27 member states in June 2022. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Fee’s president, has been a driving pressure on this effort, stating as quickly because the battle began: “Ukraine is one in all us and we wish them within the European Union.” 

However in relation to the questions of how and when, sensitivities differ from west to east and from north to south. And the scope of the problems raised by the prospect of Ukrainian and Moldovan accession is staggering.

First, how huge ought to the enlargement be? If the EU is critical about opening the door to Ukraine and Moldova, can it depart the nations of the western Balkans lingering within the ready room?

Enlargement can be about safety and eliminating the gray zones between the EU and Nato area and Russia which have confirmed so fertile for Russian and Chinese language affect. Logically, holding the western Balkans out will make them much more susceptible. Then will come the query of Georgia — which might elevate the variety of member states, probably, from 27 to 36.

Right here comes the arduous half. When you appreciated the complicated, slow-moving, veto-prone 27-member EU, you’ll love the dysfunctional, chaotic lifetime of a 36-member group.

That is the best worry of France and Germany: the dilution of the European mission in a disparate group of countries, every of them preventing for its personal pursuits. The objective of the founding member states stays an “ever nearer union”, they usually anticipate new entrants to contribute to this development. For the French, the one method to keep away from paralysis in an enlarged EU is to reform its governance. German chancellor Olaf Scholz advocates switching from unanimity to majority voting for selections on overseas coverage and tax issues. This could imply the top of rule by consensus. Berlin has rallied Paris and a handful of different capitals round its proposal.

There’s “no approach in hell the EU will get a consensus to do away with unanimity”, a senior official from a Baltic nation tells me. Poland agrees. The showdown will are available in October, when the Fee offers its report on Ukraine’s implementation of EU suggestions. That may present the premise on which the member states will resolve whether or not to open accession negotiations with Kyiv.

There are a lot of extra variations to bridge. The swift response from a number of central European states, notably Poland, over the adverse influence of the export of grain from Ukraine on their financial system is a style of issues to come back: these might be no straightforward discussions, even with Kyiv’s closest supporters. But failure isn’t an possibility. Not solely wouldn’t it have tragic penalties for Ukraine, it will additionally deprive Europe of its most formidable strategic instrument — accession negotiations.

In the meantime, one new and placing development is already clear: Russia’s battle in Ukraine has given post-communist member states a stronger voice inside the EU. To a few of their younger leaders, the unique imaginative and prescient of Europe nurtured by the founding members belongs to a different period. They now personal the European mission as a lot because the founders do. They usually intend to form it simply as a lot.

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