BRUSSELS — Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia received positive news Wednesday about their willingness to join the European Union, but countries in the volatile Balkan region that have waited years longer to become members of the ‘European Union. the world’s largest trading bloc seemed to fall back into the queue.
In a series of reports on countries seeking to join the ranks of the bloc, the EU’s executive branch has recommended that war-ravaged Ukraine be allowed to open accession negotiations, once it has filled some gaps.
The European Commission congratulated Ukraine, where Russian troops launched a full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, saying the government “demonstrated a remarkable level of institutional strength, determination and ability to function.” But he said negotiations should only begin after resolving corruption, lobbying problems and restrictions that could prevent national minorities from studying and reading in their own languages.
Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, which was also rocked by the Russian invasion, received a similar message.
“Moldova is the subject of constant destabilization efforts against its democracy“, declared the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. “But like Ukraine, Moldova has undertaken significant reform efforts,” she said, signaling that talks should move forward once the conditions for justice and the fight against corruption are met.
Georgia has been informed that it should be officially designated as a candidate for membership once it has addressed its shortcomings, notably in the fight against corruption and electoral deficiencies. This does not mean that it will begin accession negotiations soon. The country will have to overcome more reform hurdles before this can happen.
The commission’s proposals, outlined in annual progress reports, primarily provide technical advice to the EU’s 27 member states on countries’ progress in aligning their laws and standards with those of the bloc.
EU leaders are expected to decide whether or not to endorse the recommendations at a summit in Brussels on December 14-15. There is no guarantee that they will agree to do so unanimously. Hungary and Slovakia, for example, are particularly indifferent to Ukraine’s aspirations.
Yet Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted the EU to open its doors to new members, perhaps as soon as 2030, and countries mired in or emerging from conflict are eager to join.
For 20 years, the prospect of EU membership has been a powerful driver of pro-democratic reforms in candidate countries. But the Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo – are disheartened by the bloc’s failure to deliver on its lofty membership promises.
On the other hand, some aspirants seem to be treading water.
Bosnia remains in the grip by ethnic divisions that make reform an almost impossible challenge. The commission said it should only begin accession negotiations once more progress has been made. He expressed concern about the justice system and other rights violations in the Bosnian Serb part of the country.
Serbia and Kosovo refuse to normalize their relationships, and stay last in the EU line. After one of the worst cross-border attacks in northern Kosovo in recent years, their leaders cannot tolerate being in the same room.
In the days leading up to the announcement of the recommendations, von der Leyen toured the Balkans to promote a economic growth plan containing 6 billion euros ($6.4 billion) in free European loans and other support in exchange for more reforms.
Last month, a senior EU official said that some Balkan countries “continue to see themselves as the center of our attention and refuse to accept or admit that it is actually Ukraine “. The senior official requested anonymity to speak candidly about the politically sensitive issue.
He said the consensus among many EU officials working with Ukraine is that kyiv “demonstrates everything we lack in the Balkans: energy, commitment, enthusiasm.” He said reports on the commission’s enlargement would be “the objective indicator of the situation.”
Meanwhile, Turkey’s membership hopes have stalled. The country began its EU accession negotiations in 2005, but these have stalled in recent years. Ankara’s progress report is grim, despite the bloc’s reliance on Turkey to stop migrants from coming to Europe.
The commission noted “serious deficiencies in the functioning of Turkish democratic institutions”. She said “democratic backsliding continues.” Human rights standards have deteriorated and no progress has been seen in the fight against corruption.
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