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EU enlargement and Eastern neighbourhood policies: how wrong blueprint spoils good policy – Part I

A post in 2 parts, by Klaudijus Maniokas and Darius Žeruolis,

EU enlargement policy is an important tool of the EU‘s foreign policy. However, its limitations are increasingly obvious and it is hardly a recipe for a successful EU foreign policy in general. It is still important in Western Balkans where a number of countries are showing willingness to change at a prospect of the EU‘s membership. This policy is a glue which holds the region and some of its states together. Croatia‘s success also demonstrates viability of the membership offer. Montenegro and Turkey made a step forward in the second half of 2013. The next shooting star of the enlargement process is Montenegro. Under the Lithuanian Presidency of the EU Council it made big progress in accession negotiations by opening another five chapters, including the most difficult ones related to fundamental rights and judiciary. This is a real demonstration of the magnetic transformative power of the EU and confirmation of the “New Approach” in accession negotiations. Serbia formally began accession negotiations on 21 January 2014 and could be reasonably expected to advance fast. With opening of the chapter on regional policy and co-ordination of structural instruments in November 2013, accession negotiations with Turkey have resumed after more than a three-year break. In December 2013 the Council once again made it clear that without full and non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement towards all Member States and normalisation of relations with the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey, it will not be possible for the Council to unfreeze certain negotiating chapters and to advance negotiations significantly. However, the resumption of negotiations, along with implementation of the Positive Agenda of 2012 could bring the needed boost and keep Turkey interested in  coming closer to the EU. The EU also began negotiations on Stabilization and Association Agreement with Kosovo. This will certainly keep the necessary pressure to continue with state building and necessary reforms, although these are still early days of the integration process in Kosovo in view of the distance to be covered towards full membership in the EU.

Progress in 2013 in the remaining candidate and potential candidate countries or around them was less pronounced. The new Icelandic government decided to put the accession negotiations on hold. Albania made progress towards a candidacy status, but the EU was not convinced and postponed its decision to June 2014. Progress in FYROM and Bosnia and Herzegovina hinges on the high level dialogues, but without tangible success or even the prospect thereof.

Overall, EU enlargement is advancing, but the limitations of this policy are becoming more obvious as well, especially when it is judged against more difficult cases. Some EU member states are becoming hostile to the EU enlargement policy. As a consequence, decision to grant EU candidacy status to Albania was postponed again, despite the positive recommendation of the European Commission.

Albania‘s case also demonstrates limited ability of the EU to induce change. Regrettably, the EU did not have enough tools to stop the new Albanian government from politically motivated lay-offs of civil servants. This is an important negative feature of the policy, which has wider implications towards the EU foreign policy in general.

First of all, this policy is passive towards the domestic ingredients of change. The EU seldom if at all engineers them, because EU policy makers tend to overestimate the attractive power of the EU. Unfortunately, they have got accustomed to assume that a certain opening of the relationship with the EU or upgrading of its status in itself is sufficient to make a lasting impact on the neighbourhood countries or, more widely, on the external world. This assumption is increasingly incorrect as there are more external players and more divergent internal incentives in the aspiring countries.

This is obvious in Western Balkans, but it is even more so in the Eastern neighbourhood. The current EU‘s stance towards Ukraine is a case in mind. While EU was right refusing to play a bidding game with Russia, a more active EU stance towards Ukraine and other Eastern partners is necessary. It is not enough to open a prospect of association and free trade, it is important to help to offset Russia‘s influence and help to solve the main developmental problems of this region. This, inter alia, includes a reassessment of the cost and benefits of the current association agreements. They should be commensurate to the issues of socio-economic development faced today by the South-Eastern and Eastern neighbourhood and made lighter in their regulatory burden.

A shorter version of this post has appeared on Europe’s World  and can be read here. Part II of this commentary will appear here on eurosearch shortly.

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