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The Paradox Of Putin's War: Europe Is Going To Get Bigger, And Move Eastward

The European Union accelerated Ukraine's bid to join the Union. But there are growing signs, it won't stop there.

photo of a

European Parliament in Strasbourg

Valon Murtezaj


PARIS — Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has upended the European order as we know it, and that was even before the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline was cut off earlier this month. While the bloc gets down to grappling with the unfolding energy crisis, the question of consolidating its flanks by speeding up the enlargement process has also come back into focus.

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In a critical meeting on June 23-24, the European Сouncil granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova and recognized the “European perspective” of Georgia – a nod acknowledging the country’s future belonged within the European Union.

Less than a month later, Brussels brought to an end the respectively 8- and 17-year-long waits for Albania and North Macedonia by allowing them into the foray of accession negotiations.

This leaves two groups of countries aspiring to join the union: on the one hand, the six Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia) who began their journey in 2003 at the EU summit held in Thessaloniki, Greece, and now find themselves at different accession stages. On the other, the three countries Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which submitted applications to join the bloc following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine earlier this year.

Copenhagen criteria still count

Such an unruly patchwork makes clear the need for a quicker and more effective accession process. Indeed, countries currently aspiring to join the bloc must prove they are able to meet the Copenhagen criteria established by the EU Council in 1993 in Denmark’s capital.

These include the provision of sound democratic institutions, a respect for the rule of law, human rights, and protection of minorities. Would-be EU member states must also show they are equipped with a functioning market economy and the institutional and administrative capacity to implement the set of EU legislation and rules imposed on member states, or acquis.

Once these conditions are met, every one of the 27 member states of the European Council must vote the accession of new members, according to a unanimity vote system.

So, might the war finally bring the EU around to enlarging, if not reforming its accession criteria?

Scholz stakes his ground

There are signs some want to break the deadlock. Take German chancellor Olaf Scholz, who has spent a good part of the summer lobbying for an acceleration of the accession negotiations for the Western Balkans. On June 10-11 he conducted a whistle-stop tour in Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria during which he reiterated the region’s strategic importance for Germany and reprimanded Bulgaria for blocking North Macedonia’s access over language and historical disagreements.

On August 29, Scholz again urged the union to expand at a lecture in Prague: The “centre of Europe is moving eastward,” he said.

Avoiding a vacuum for hostile actors.

Greece has joined the ranks. Writing in Politico Europe on 10 June, prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, stressed the “existential importance of integrating this region in the European family” by 2033 – “an ambitious but achievable timeline”. Fulfilling this promise would spare aspiring countries from disillusionment, but also a “vacuum for hostile actors” such as Russia or China from developing.

When it comes to an enhanced enlargement process, EU member states such as Austria, Italy, Poland and Slovenia have consistently expressed their support for welcoming the Western Balkans.

Scholz and Zelensky

Photo of Olaf Scholz talking to Volodymyr Zelensky at a table

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in June

Office of Ukrainian presidency

Benefits of majority voting

Many agree it is high time to streamline the accession procedure, notably by reforming the bloc’s unanimity voting system. In Prague, Scholz stated: “Where unanimity is required today, the risk of an individual country using its veto and preventing all the others from forging ahead increases with each additional member state."

The chancellor went on to announce he had “proposed a gradual transition to majority voting in common foreign policy, but also in other areas, such as tax policy – knowing full well that this would also have repercussions for Germany”.

In this regard, Scholz confirms its alignment with France, which has repeatedly criticized unanimity.

This is sensible. The excesses of certain states’ bargaining power were largely demonstrated by the case of North Macedonia, which was vetoed twice: first by Greece in 2018 on the grounds of the country’s name, and then by Bulgaria since 2020 over language issues and the country’s Bulgarian ethnic minority rights. At a time of rising populism, majority voting would also prevent outsized egos of throwing spanners into the EU works.

Mitterand to Macron

Any talk of reform is bound to require heavy lifting before it can materialize, with many opposed to treaty changes. Hungary, which has been lobbying for an inclusion of the Western Balkans into the EU for years, is one of them. At a council meeting in 2020, foreign minister Péter Szijjártó described the “proposal that the EU should no longer give unanimous consent to its foreign policy decisions” as “dangerous and completely contrary to EU treaties.”

The idea needs refining.

Awaiting substantial treaty changes, which would take years of negotiations, one solution could be to adopt a differentiated integration along the lines proposed by French president Emmanuel Macron. Speaking at a conference on the future of Europe on May 9 in Strasbourg, he articulated the concept of a European forum that would be separate from the European Union, a “European political community.”

Inspired by François Mitterrand’s (1981-1995) initial idea of a European confederation, the community would offer European neighbors a “new space for cooperation on politics, security, energy, transport, infrastructure investments and the movement of people, especially the young”.

The idea needs refining, however, with the questions of who could join the community, the scope of collaboration, and decision-making procedure still up for debate. It is also unclear whether the forum would serve as an alternative to actual enlargement or as an antechamber for it.

But regardless of the form of EU enlargement, it is clear Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has brought together members states around it like never before in the last two decades.

Reservations over the majority vote, which in the end come down to hesitations over trade-offs between EU unity and national sovereignty, will require significant leadership in order to be overcome. Rather than fear and confrontation, member states must now look to their sense of community and responsibility for the EU to act like the global player ought to be – with urgency and unity.

*Valon Murtezaj is Professor of international negotiation and diplomacy, IÉSEG School of Management

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Smaller Allies Matter: Afghanistan Offers Hard Lessons For Ukraine's Future

Despite controversies at home, Nordic countries were heavily involved in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan. As the Ukraine war grinds on, lessons from that conflict are more relevant than ever.

Photo of Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Finnish Defence Forces in Afghanistan

Johannes Jauhiainen


HELSINKI — In May 2021, the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan after 20 years of international presence, astronomical sums of development aid and casualties on all warring sides.

As Kabul fell, a chaotic evacuation prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon — and most of the attention was on the U.S., which had led the original war to unseat the Taliban after 9/11 and remained by far the largest foreign force on the ground. Yet, the fall of Kabul was also a tumultuous and troubling experience for a number of other smaller foreign countries who had been presented for years in Afghanistan.

In an interview at the time, Antti Kaikkonen, the Finnish Minister of Defense, tried to explain what went wrong during the evacuation.

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“Originally we anticipated that the smaller countries would withdraw before the Americans. Then it became clear that getting people to the airport had become more difficult," Kaikkonen said. "So we decided last night to bring home our last soldiers who were helping with the evacuation.”

During the 20-year-long Afghan war, the foreign troop presence included many countries:Finland committed around 2,500 soldiers,Sweden 8,000,Denmark 12,000 and Norway 9,000. And in the nearly two years since the end of the war, Finland,Belgium and theNetherlands have commissioned investigations into their engagements in Afghanistan.

As the number of fragile or failed states around the world increases, it’s important to understand how to best organize international development aid and the security of such countries. Twenty years of international engagement in Afghanistan offers valuable lessons.

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