Thursday, June 13, 2024

Putin wants more land. The EU is racing to get there first

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Austria’s Schallenberg floated the possibility of letting candidate countries sit as observers on the EU’s political and security committee (PSC), a Brussels body where foreign policy decisions are made. “Instead of simply sending them an EU or common Foreign Security Policy declaration, saying ‘sign it,’ we make them part of our thinking, part of our decision-shaping,” he said.

The renewed push for a larger Europe marks the first such expansion drive since the bloc accepted Croatia into its ranks in 2013. Talk about letting in Turkey ended with France’s then president Nicolas Sarkozy bluntly saying no to Ankara in 2011, putting a damper on further enlargement. 

But if they are to realize their ambitions, the EU’s leaders will need to cope with acute growing pains. The debate is likely to be fierce between European capitals as officials weigh the suitability of candidate countries — concerns about corruption in Ukraine, for example, loom large. And then there’s the nightmarish prospect of reforming the EU’s internal decision-making processes to accommodate a much larger bloc. 

EU Council President Charles Michel has called for new members to be admitted to the bloc by 2030 | Pool photo by Francisco Seco via AFP/Getty Images

No sooner had Michel set his 2030 target date than a spokesperson for the European Commission, which is responsible for assessing candidate nations’ fitness, poured cold water on such a rapid timescale. The process to join the EU was purely “merit-based,” the spokesperson said. The Commission is due to present progress reports on candidate countries later this year, although one senior EU diplomat said the presentation was likely to be delayed amid intense scrutiny of Ukraine’s accession bid, in particular. 

Corruption

“We want to give a positive signal to Ukraine but things such as this proposal to give more power to [Ukraine’s] intelligence [services] over corruption can send the wrong message,” said a Western European diplomat. At the same time, Ukraine was a “very corrupt country.”

Agricultural policy is the most obvious flashpoint in any future accession talks between Brussels and Kyiv. Ukraine’s cheap grain exports could flood the EU and drown the bloc’s heavily-subsidized farmers. Poland and several other EU countries have already shut their doors to Ukrainian grain exports, saying the move aims to protect their farmers. 

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