Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, the Director of the EU Studies Center at the Rondeli Foundation
The European Union is the best integrated and the most successful union of countries in the world. Only European countries can join the Union and from about twenty European countries, which have not yet become the member of the European Union, almost a half have a desire to join it as soon as possible. These countries include:
- The Associated countries from Western Balkans (Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo)
- The Associated countries of Eastern Europe (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).
The motivations of the countries not seeking integration into the European Union at the given stage are quite different from one another. These include:
- Countries which have greater wealth than the European Union’s average (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland);
- Mini states, which cannot technically become full members of the European Union due to the extremely small size of their populations (Vatican, Monaco, Andorra and San-Marino);
- Countries which are under the Russian influence and have practically lost their ability to act independently on the foreign policy arena (Armenia and Belarus);
- Countries whose governments are quite scared by the criteria determined for the membership of the European Union (Azerbaijan).
Today, the process of European integration has practically covered the whole sub-continent. The European Union itself is the nucleus of this process; however, around the nucleus and in the format of close partnership to varying degrees, almost all European countries are approximating and integrating with the EU structures.
What are these formats?
- European Economic Area (EEA), which is a sort of an extension of the European internal market. Part of its members, which are not simultaneously members of the European Union, include Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland, benefitting from all four freedoms of the European Union’s single market and integrated into most EU policies. Switzerland can also be added to this group (despite the fact that it does not participate in the aforementioned agreement/format), as it has achieved very similar mode of relations with the European Union through numerous agreements of its own. All of these four countries are the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). It is not unlikely that the United Kingdom will join this association after leaving the European Union.
- Customs Union, which, apart from the European Union member states, also includes Turkey and three mini states of Monaco, San Marino and Andorra.
- Stabilization and Association Process, which has been designed by the European Union for the Western Balkan countries. This is the European Union’s program, which provides for the eventual signing of the Association and Stabilization Agreements with all Western Balkan countries (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo), establishing the free trade area between the European Union and these countries and creating a European perspective for them, including by granting the status of potential candidates. Croatia has been the member of the European Union already since 2013 whilst Montenegro is also very close to becoming a full member.
- The Eastern Partnership is a part of the European Neighborhood Policy, which opens the opportunities of close cooperation and approximation for six Eastern European (Post-Soviet) countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus). The multilateral dimension of this format uses the multilateral cooperation platforms between the six beneficiary countries and the European Union, which include thematic platforms, flagship initiatives and panels. The main element of the bilateral dimension of this format is the Association Agreement, which has been signed by three target countries thus far. It should be pointed out, that the remaining three countries that have not signed the Association Agreement are still deepening their relations with the European Union and signing new agreements with it.
All of the facts discussed above make it clear that the European integration process is unfolding through some sort of concentrated circles and Georgia, together with other Eastern European countries, is situated on the outer (peripheral) circle, since these countries do not yet have a perspective of becoming the members of the European Union. All European states except Russia are either closely connected with the European Union structures or are approximating to it through legal or institutional means, transport and energy infrastructure networks, human contacts or participating into the common policies and so on. Only one state, Russia, does not express any desire of approximating with the European Union. It tries to create a gravitation around itself, which would balance the European integration process and is partly successful in this through various tough or soft methods, including the use of force and the threat of using force. Despite this, we can easily see that the attractiveness of the European Union is far bigger than that of Russia and the European integration process is moving forward.
Ninety six EP members adressed EU leaders to support European perspective of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, May 20, 2015
It is clear that the enlargement of the European Union, which is currently moving rather slowly and weakly, represents the main element of European integration. Without enlargement, the European Union will not be able to include the whole sub-continent (excluding Russia) into its system of values and will also fail to fully expand its legal-institutional systems. The full stability and security of the European and NATO member states will also be much harder to maintain, especially given the extremely weakened role of the OSCE in these matters. In the future, the countries seeking membership of the European Union will have more ambitions to become full members. Fostering and developing these ambitions is a precondition for the fast and effective reform processes in these countries. A proper response from the European Union in order to protect the countries with European aspirations from Russian irredentism is also necessary, since the latter demands the “return” of the Post-Soviet area and does not recognize the sovereign rights of a number of countries to link their futures to those alliances and structures, which they prefer to be associated with.
Despite the fact that the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) provides for (in Article 49) a right to submit application for membership, integrating into the European Union is very hard given the current conditions and takes a lot of time. Candidates, aspirants or potential candidate/aspirant countries may be ready to take on certain obligations from the European Union or fully participate in certain policies (for example: defense, energy, environment protection and others); however, in order for them to become full members of the European Union, they are also obligated to be ready to implement the norms of the European Union from both legal as well as institutional standpoints. On the other hand, the member states of the European Union are also obligated to fully participate in all policies and decisions (with small exceptions) and, in a number of cases, they are not able to do so comprehensively. European integration and increasingly close linkage of the countries around the EU nucleus is a sustainable trend. Parallel to this, the conditions for becoming a member state are becoming more and more difficult to meet and even the states, which are already members, find it hard to remain in the European Union and uphold all the obligations that they have. Given this situation and in order for the European integration process not to be hindered, the countries aspiring to full membership must be given the opportunity to join certain parts of the European Union policies upon their readiness, taking obligations connected to these policies only, also receiving the status of membership at the same time. In order to do this, the institutional setting of the European Union must be reformed completely. There are several, already existing, models that could be established in the future:
- Multi-Speed Europe – different countries will have the right to choose different speeds of integration. The list of countries with the highest quality of integration will consist of the Eurozone member states, followed by the countries, which are not Eurozone members but are in fact full members of the European Union. The third group will include the states, which are not members of the European Union but have a desire to get involved in various common policies, with the right of participating in the decision-making process.
- Concentrated Circles – has partly been included in the latest agreements of the European Union, as a result of which some countries participate in the extended cooperation format in the fields of defense and security, with deepened relations in these fields. The Lisbon Treaty (2009) provides for such a cooperation for a minimum of nine countries, if they so desire. Article 42 (6) of the Treaty provides for the structural cooperation in the field of defense, where a number of member states (eight countries) can make decisions through qualified majority and act without the participation of other countries. It should also be pointed out that not all the members of the European Union participate in the Eurozone or the agreement on Schengen Area, which exhibits the features of the differentiated integration. In the future, it is possible that such countries, which participate in all policies of the Union, will become the members of the “small circle.” The members of another, wider circle, will maintain more sovereignty, including in the fields of defense and security as well as those of monetary and migration policies. The countries in the peripheral circle or those who joined recently could only have the right to participate in the single market.
- Both of the approaches discussed above still lack theoretical processing and hence have a multitude of modifications. The academia also refers to these phenomena as changing geometry Europe or differentiated integration.
Georgia’s integration in the European Union in the future can be achieved in a way very different from the current enlargement process. More specifically, functional integration, which is being undertaken with the aim of deepening sectoral cooperation, could develop into a gradual and full integration into various policies of the European Union. This will then turn into a soft institutional integration, which will enable the country to participate in the European Union institutions, only to be present during the decision-making processes about the policies it will be fully integrated into.