In 2022, an unexpected turn occurred in the question of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova joining the European Union. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, three Eastern European countries applied for membership in the EU and within a few months achieved the status of the so-called European perspective. This means that Brussels is considering the possibility of their entry into the EU: Ukraine and Moldova have received the status of candidates, and Georgia – a potential candidate. Anyone who has followed the demands of this troika to join the European Union for decades understands: the decisions are truly historic.
Positive changes for these countries may continue this year as well. Like everything else in Brussels, the accession process has a political character, so many EU countries are now in favor of expansion, especially in Ukraine. It seems that the entire troika is determined to implement the recommendations of the European Commission, primarily in the area of justice, so that the process can move forward as much as possible.
Therefore, no one will be surprised if the medium-term assessment presented by the European Commission this spring turns out to be positive, and the expansion reports scheduled for autumn are encouraging. However, it is still too early to say whether this will be enough for the commission to recommend starting negotiations on the accession of Kyiv and Chisinau to the EU and the awarding of candidate status to Tbilisi. In addition, the approval of all 27 EU members will be required in December. This is not an easy task, but considering how quickly the political situation in Europe is changing, it is definitely not worth discounting such an option.
Hopes that these three countries will become full members of the EU in the next 5–10 years are unlikely to be fulfilled. To understand why, it is enough to look at the second part of the conclusion of the European Commission on Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. In the final version, this document must be accepted by the end of the month. In June, the so-called political criteria were announced, and the January part reflected more bureaucratic issues. In essence, this is the “homework” that applicant countries must complete in order to become EU members. It is here that the most important thing begins, after the symbolic steps necessary to become candidates and start concrete negotiations about admission.
In the projects reviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 32 sections (or “chapters” in the EU language) and the extent to which the legislation of the three countries correspond to the EU legislation in different areas are discussed in detail. The reports use five criteria for each chapter: “initial stage”, “certain level of preparation”, “moderately good level of preparation”, “good level of preparation” and “advanced”. The report, in true Brussels style, is very dry, but if you delve into it in more detail, it becomes clear: none of the three countries has the status of an advanced level of training in any of the sections. Ukraine achieved a “good level of preparation” in only two areas, both related to foreign policy. Georgia and Moldova achieved this level only in one section. According to most chapters, Ukraine is on the second line from the bottom (“opredelyonnyy uroven preparation”). In Moldova, the situation is even worse: in 16 sections, the lowest score. At the same time, in Georgia, which does not have the full status of a candidate country, the situation is better: the status of “moderately good level of training” in eight regions.
Sometimes the expansion process slows down and even stops
It looks strange, but there is some explanation for it. The most obvious thing: in the economic and financial spheres, everything is good in Georgia, and this is not surprising, since the authorities of this country have been betting on linking the economy to the West for the last decade, and in the case of Ukraine and Moldova, this was not always the case. In addition, Georgia has good administrative and bureaucratic potential, but Moldova, as follows from the report, clearly lacks it. Let me remind you: this is the second part of the conclusion. In the first, which concerns issues of justice and fundamental rights, Georgia remained in third place. Since the EU pays special attention to these areas, Georgia still lags behind Ukraine and Moldova on the way to Brussels.
Reforms may take years, the road will be long. Kyiv and Chisinau may have strong intentions to reform the legislation, but to achieve success, you need to have significant administrative resources, increased political sensitivity and enviable stamina. Not to mention that the enthusiasm of the EU member states may fade: each of them must give the “green light” to “close” the sections on expansion. However, politicians are often more concerned about their own electorate and the ratings of their parties than the state of affairs in foreign candidate countries. Sometimes the expansion process slows down and even stops. It is enough to look at the main candidates for the EU in the Western Balkans – Montenegro and Serbia. In ten years, they managed to “close” only a few sections, and sometimes it seems: the hopes of Belgrade and Podgorica ever joining the European Union are lost.
Rikard Jozviak is a European observer of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty media corporation
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