The Future of EU Membership – The World Peace Organization
The 3 of Marchrd, Georgia submitted its application for membership of the European Union following the candidacies of Ukraine and Moldova, and the resurgence of violence in the region. June 17e, the EU Commission presented its opinion on the candidatures of the three countries, which the Council approved. Unlike Ukraine and Moldova, however, Georgia did not gain candidate status. Instead, the state was only recognized for its “European perspective”, a status without legal basis and which does not bring Georgia closer to becoming an official member state. The Commission cited numerous reasons for its decision and published a detailed list of recommendations that Georgia should follow in order to continue on its path to EU membership. Although Georgia undoubtedly has a lot of changes to implement before it can hope to become a member, the question remains whether the EU made the right decision in refusing Georgia’s application for membership.
Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova now join a long list of hopeful countries seeking to join the European Union. Four Western Balkan countries plus Turkey are currently recognized as candidate countries, in addition to the two potential candidate countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Most of these nations have been candidate states for nearly a decade, and while progress has been made, that progress is largely defined by languor. The Commission has repeatedly stated in its recent communications that, despite the speed with which recent Candidacy Statuses have been assigned, the process “[go] in the rules of the art”, and that the same long process awaits Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Potential candidate countries will therefore have to fulfill the Copenhagen and Madrid criteria, which emphasize the need for stable and democratic institutions, a functioning market economy and adherence to the aims and objectives of the Union. , contained in the acquis.
The membership procedure is undoubtedly arduous. The acquis alone is over 140,000 pages long and each step forward requires the unanimous agreement of all current Member States. However, now is the time to make progress. The Commission headed by Madam President Ursula von der Leyen seems keen to right the mistakes of its predecessors and re-engage in the enlargement process as a tool for peace, development and democratisation. During von der Leyen’s tenure, the accession process was again modified, with the aim of working faster and more efficiently through the necessary reforms, and progress was made in the accession paths of the Western Balkans . Accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, for example, opened in early 2020. The recent granting of candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova sends a strong message that membership is possible and relevant, and not something that should be relegated to the past. The von der Leyen Commission recognizes that the EU is based on unity in diversity, that its strength lies in its inclusiveness; a multi-faceted Europe which should welcome new candidates and accompany them towards accession, rather than closing itself off to the rest of the continent.
This does not detract from the amount of work that remains to be done. Georgia, for its part, must go through the long list of reforms drawn up by the Commission before it can hope to gain candidate status. These demands for reform include ending the political polarization between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition; restore the judiciary to guarantee its independence, impartiality and accountability; strengthen anti-corruption laws; and the fight against organized crime. The Commission will review Georgia’s progress at the end of the year.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili celebrated the EU decision, telling a rally in Tbilisi that “we must mobilize on this historic day for our country. Our message is that we want a European Georgia. However, there are reasons to fear that offering Georgia lengthy reforms and unclear timelines in lieu of formal candidate status could have the opposite effect on the country. Under the ardor of the accession process, many countries find themselves in retreat, unhappy with the lack of progress and support from the EU. Serbia is a country that first moved quickly towards membership, aligning its policy on its own accord and achieving visa liberalization and candidacy in quick succession in 2009 and 2012. Yet the candidate status of Serbia has made little progress in recent years, and it and other Western Balkan countries are increasingly looking to other sources, such as China, for help following the EU apathy.
So, despite the Commission’s repeated message that it is up to the nations themselves to adopt reforms and make progress, the EU needs to think seriously about its own response to the renewed prospect of enlargement. Instead of hindering progress, the bloc should aim to support candidate nations to the best of its ability.
Some speculate that Ukraine and Moldova were granted the candidacy as a token gesture rather than an actual offer of future admission to the union. If the EU really believes in the European future of these nations, it will have to keep its promises, as it did not do with the Western Balkans. Targets set for countries must remain transparent and consistent, national interests must not interfere with the process, and the EU must be willing to reward progress rather than offer vague excuses about the Union’s ability to absorb new members.
The question of the capacity of the European institution to cope with the new Member States is relevant and will undoubtedly have to be addressed, even if the way to achieve this remains uncertain at the moment. There is a lot of work to be done, but although this work may be difficult, it is in the interest of the EU and of Europe to do it. The Union has contributed to stabilizing, democratizing and establishing peace and justice on the continent, which has only been achieved through enlargement.
Enlargement and accession take time, of that there is no doubt. As a possible interim measure, French President Macron has proposed the concept of a “European political community”, a parallel entity for candidate and potential candidate countries. Although the prospect of joining a subordinate form of the union has previously resented several Western Balkan nations, for the more recent candidates it could be a viable short-term solution, offering many of the advantages of the Union. while the main membership work is done in tandem.
Hopefully, Georgians will not be discouraged by the decisions made in Brussels, and the EU, hopefully, will not become complacent. The Georgian government has been divided and widely criticized for its response to the invasion of Ukraine, but it must remain loyal to its people, a considerable majority of whom want a European future.
It’s time for change and progress. There have been no new European member states for nearly a decade, but the next few years could see a significantly enlarged Union, stretching further south and east. “The European Council is ready to grant candidate country status to Georgia once the priorities specified in the Commission’s opinion on Georgia’s membership application have been addressed.” With determination and collaboration, this can become a reality, but only if all parties are ready to fully commit to the process.