Eu enlargement process: how much progress has been made on it

Politics - August 30, 2023

An informal meeting between EU and Balkan leaders was held in Athens on 21st August 2023.

The event, desired and organized at the initiative of the premier of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, occurred significantly after 20 years since the Thessaloniki summit, during which the path within the EU of the Balkan countries was formally recognized for the first time.

The historical context in which the Balkans have lived for a long time and the current situation in which they now find themselves have led the Balkans to be one of the key players in that EU enlargement process.

At the meeting in Athens, European Council President Charles Michel took the opportunity to reiterate one of the central themes for the European Union, namely that of its enlargement and also its strengthening.

The EU enlargement process has been in motion for many years, and it is current now more than ever. This process has so far produced many results, so much so that from the famous six founding countries we have now reached the current 27 member countries, and many more have obtained EU candidate status or are in the process of obtaining it.

The enlargement process is a necessary process for the EU itself, which needs to reorganize and renew itself in many ways. In addition, it should also be considered that implementing this process requires action on both sides, that is, on the part of both the European Union and the candidate countries. In fact, it is necessary both for the EU to prepare to welcome the new states and for the candidate countries to reform in order to come to meet the requirements of the EU institution.

Countries that have become interested in this European enlargement process include Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.

All these countries are candidates for the EU because this institution intends to grow more and more in the world, with the specific goal of promoting peace, security and prosperity.

Added to these applicants is the peculiar case of Ukraine. In fact, the Ukrainian country, just four days after the violent Russian aggression, applied for membership in the European Union, thus at the same time asking for its support not only militarily or economically, but for all-round support. The Ukrainian case also appears peculiar because it has prompted other nations to follow the same path, namely Moldova and Georgia, these two countries also being heavily pressured by Russia.

In the case of Ukraine, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave the green light about a month later, or April 8, as did the Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi.

For the other two countries, too, the green light from the European Commission came shortly afterward. In particular, Ukraine and Moldova immediately received candidate status, while on the contrary some doubts were raised about Georgia, whereby the country will have to work on a number of priorities and implement some significant reforms within the country.

On June 23, 2023, the European Council also analyzed the situation on the three countries. The result was the same as that outlined by the Commission, whereby Kiev and Chișinău became the sixth and seventh candidates for EU membership, while Tbilisi was recognized as having a European perspective in the EU enlargement process.

Ukraine has applied to begin accession negotiations by the end of this year; likewise, Georgia has also applied to begin procedures to become a candidate country before the end of 2023.

On the subject of enlargement, in addition to the cases mentioned so far, mention should also be made of the six Western Balkan countries that have begun the long path to EU membership. Four of these countries, namely-Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia-have already begun accession negotiations, one has received candidate status, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and another, namely Kosovo, has formally applied and is awaiting the response of the Twenty-Seven.

As for the negotiations with Tirana and Skopje these got under way in July 2022, after waiting for many years (notably, Albania achieved this after eight years, and Macedonia after 17 years). Podgorica and Belgrade, on the other hand, have been experiencing a waiting situation for 9 and 11 years.

There was also news in 2022 for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which after six years of waiting on December 15 last year became an EU candidate country.

A more complicated position, however, is the one of Kosovo. It sent its formal application to the European Union last year. However, it should be remembered that Kosovo since its unilateral declaration of independence from Belgrade in 2008 five EU member states do not recognize it as a sovereign state (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Spain and Slovakia), in addition to the fact that relations with Brussels have soured after diplomatic tensions with Serbia in late May.

Another important actor in the enlargement process is Turkey. This country is also experiencing a very complicated condition both in terms of its internal life and international relations with other countries, European and non-EU.

The history of EU-Turkey relations is more than a decade old. In fact, negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the European Union were launched as far back as 2005. However, relations between the two sides have been frozen since 2018, due to issues related to the state of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights and the independence of the judiciary within Turkish society. A situation that unfortunately over the years does not seem to have produced improvements, but rather it seems that the situation has radicalized and no progress has been made, with a relative deterioration in the global geopolitical scenario as well.

In the latest Annual Enlargement Package presented in October 2022, it was made clear that as long as Turkey does not reverse course and continue to move away from the European Union and its positions regarding the rule of law, while continuing to escalate tensions over border enforcement in the Eastern Mediterranean, no dialogue between the European Union and Ankara will be possible.

Moreover, at the last NATO summit in Vilnius held at the end of June, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, tried to force his hand, even threatening that he would only bind Sweden’s membership in the Atlantic Alliance when Brussels opens Turkey’s path to the European Union again. Fortunately, this blackmail did not have any negative consequences, but the Turkey dossier has become central again, and now inside European palaces there is an even more careful and serious talk about it.

In conclusion, therefore, we can say that almost at the end of 2023 there are many countries that are on the path to integration into the European family, or at least hope to join it sooner or later. The number of countries that want to be part of the European Union indicate how the example of political Europe that has been built and expanded over all these years is a model for many nations, which want to be part of a larger and more involved institution with common roots and values and principles. This therefore means that the European Union has made great strides in becoming one of the world powers to look up to and be proud of and aspire to belong to. The meaning of the birth of the European Union is exactly that: to be Europe and to be Europeans in the world, more and more consistently.