Rondeli Foundation’s senior fellow, Kakha Gogolashvili
On November 23, the European Parliament heard the report of the Croatian Member of European Parliament Tonino Picula on the New Enlargement Strategy of the European Union, and adopted the text of the resolution with a large majority.
In the resolution, the members of the European Parliament call on the Council of the European Union (EU) and the European Commission, as well as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to develop effective approaches that on the one hand accelerate and facilitate the process of EU enlargement and, on the other, make this process more demanding and target-oriented for the countries seeking membership. In order to meet the increased and more specific requirements, the European Parliament proposes to increase funding and political and technical support for the reforms of the candidate countries.
In the resolution, the introduction of qualified majority voting by member states in order to start accession negotiations with a candidate country is considered a likely future step so as to simplify the enlargement process. According to the recommendation of the European Parliament, it is also necessary to remove the need for consensus on decisions to open and close individual chapters of the negotiations. Due to the current rule the consensus on such decisions, the granting of the status of a candidate state to a particular country, namely North Macedonia, was significantly hampered, as was the beginning of accession negotiations with it. In one case, demands were advanced from Greece, and in the other by Bulgaria, while all other member states supported the positive decision. In both cases, the essence of disagreement was purely bilateral in nature and actually had nothing to do with the Copenhagen criteria.
The resolution again emphasizes the need to use the Copenhagen criteria in the process of integration of new countries into the EU and the consideration of the “European Union’s integration capability factor.” This last “criterion” was added in the early 2000s to the Copenhagen criteria adopted in 1993, and complicated the enlargement process from a practical point of view, as it takes into account the extent to which the EU has the necessary economic and institutional capacity for the integration of new members at a particular moment.
This resolution contains an important call to include the candidate states in the ongoing discussions on internal reforms in the European Union. Here, the EU is urged to continue holding regular summits with the countries of the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership. According to the MEPs, it is necessary to demonstrate that the EU remains a growing union and is open to receiving countries that respect democratic values and share the spirit of the EU’s founding teraties. According to those MEPs, progress in the accession process of the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries should be made only in accordance with the appropriate “merit”.
The resolution supports the new methodology developed for the accession process, which closely links the conditionality of reforms with instruments of technical and financial assistance to candidate countries. At the same time, the resolution requires the active involvement of civil society in the monitoring of the process.
The statement on the matter that regional disputes and conflicts should not block the accession process of a candidate state is very important. The European Parliament calls on the institutions to develop and implement a formal mechanism to facilitate dispute resolution, but to conduct this activity separately from the accession process.
Consideration of this recommendation and its implementation will have a great impact on the European future of a number of countries. For example, the issue of Serbia’s accession will no longer be delayed due to the unresolved conflict with Kosovo. Further, the unresolved problem of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will no longer hinder Georgia’s progress towards joining the European Union, and the issue of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Moldova will no longer be considered an obstacle to their joining the EU. To assess the importance of establishing such an approach, it is enough to recall the statements of the former German Chancellor regarding the impossibility of Georgia joining NATO and the European Union due to its internal disputes.
The European Parliament openly calls for the acceleration of the accession of those countries whose strategic orientation to the proposed reforms of the European Union does not raise doubts. In this context, along with democratic consolidation, alignment with the EU’s foreign policy, including its sanctions policy, is also mentioned. This, of course, directly relates to Georgia’s position on joining the sanctions imposed on Russia. It is specified and emphasized in the text that the issue of Serbia’s (which is already at the crowning stage of the accession process) admission to the European Union will be resolved positively only if the latter joins the sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union. As we can see, the tone and attitudes of European political forces have significantly changed against the background of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
It is assumed that individual road maps will be developed for the countries in the process of accession, the use of which will ensure not only the fulfillment of the accession criteria, but also the development of said country. As a counterweight to this kind of progress, the candidate state should be given a wide opportunity to participate in the common policies of the EU, to be more integrated in the single market and, what is very important, to have access to the structural and sectoral funds of the European Union. In this direction, the task of the EU is to reduce the significant difference between the development levels of the member and candidate states.
The resolution also calls for sanctions against candidate states if they unreasonably delay reforms in the areas of democracy, media freedom, anti-corruption, human rights and rule of law. At the same time, the MEPs support the idea that the candidate states should be given the opportunity to observe the EU institutions and participate in their work, in order to gradually get to know and understand the roles of the EU member states. They also consider it necessary to deepen the elements of structural cooperation in relations with candidate countries, including at the dialogue of leaders during the meetings of the European Council.
On June 24, the European Council developed a 14-point recommendation for Bosnia-Herzegovina, in parallel with the decision related to Georgia, as a condition for granting it the status of a candidate state. A few days ago, the European Commission issued an “address” in which it assessed the success achieved by Bosnia-Herzegovina and recommended the country to be granted candidate status.
In the November 23 resolution, the European Parliament reacted to this event, congratulating Bosnia-Herzegovina on its progress and appealing to the European Council to grant the country EU candidacy quickly. As we can see, Georgia has not been able to make adequate progress in fulfilling the 12 recommendations set for us, and therefore the discussion on our issue has been postponed until next year.
The European Parliament demands that the EU help Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia to fulfill the conditions imposed on them, including in judicial independence, the fight against corruption, democratic control, human rights, and de-oligarchization.
The European Parliament also draws attention to the need to move these three countries from the framework of the Eastern Partnership to the framework of enlargement. Specifically, it considers transferring them to the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA III) instead of the European Global Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). At the same time, it calls for a corresponding increase in IPA III funds in order to adequately finance the new beneficiaries.
Regarding conditionality, the resolution of the European Parliament mentions that the rule of law and democratic transformation take a central place according to the new methodology. In this context, positive conditionality is related to the country’s more active involvement in EU policies and closer integration, while negative conditionality implies that if the country does not carry out the promised reforms, negotiations with it may be suspended or postponed. The same applies to financing from the pre-accession instrument.
The resolution particularly emphasizes the need to prevent hate speech, violence, discrimination and other types of unacceptable behavior towards journalists and media outlets in candidate states, with the request to investigate such facts fully. This also applies to the concentration of ownership of media outlets and the transparency of their funding sources.
The spirit of the resolution of the European Parliament shows that the interest of the European political forces in the expansion of the Union has increased unprecedentedly. A new wind of expansion is blowing in Europe and it offers new opportunities to its partner countries. At the same time, the demand of European politicians that candidates for membership respect democratic values have not subsided and is getting stronger, because only countries imbued with this spirit will be accepted as new members. On the one hand, joining the European Union requires an even greater effort from the candidate countries than before. But it is also clear that the institutions of the European Union and the member states themselves are ready to help the candidate countries as much as possible in their progress and development and, therefore, in fulfilling the imposed conditions. The window of opportunity is wide open, and Georgia should not miss the opportunity it offers.