No matter whether the candidate status is granted to Moldova, the EU membership in the foreseeable future is almost impossible. Yet, other forms of joining the “European family” might be offered to our country together with Ukraine and Georgia
One of the main intrigues of the summer season in European politics will be the (non-)granting of EU candidate status to three post-Soviet countries - Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Their governments are slowly returning the completed questionnaires, based on which the European Commission’s conclusion to the EU Council will be formulated. However, this whole story with the questionnaires is more for the internal public of the states that have submitted them. It is quite obvious that the answers are unlikely to seriously influence the final decisions, because it is already clear that Kyiv, Tbilisi and Chişinău are still very far from meeting the required Copenhagen criteria.
Here it is worth recalling that just earlier this year the process of European integration of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova was at a fairly low level. The Eastern Partnership, which was created to ensure the gradual rapprochement of the candidate countries with the European Union, had finally fizzled out and required a serious conceptual and substantive readjustment. Those involved in the project, who tried to revive it with their own initiative, understood this perfectly well. One of the fruits of this activity was the birth of the now almost defunct Association Trio. However, the results of this Trio, and of other efforts, turned out to be almost imperceptible.
Therefore, until February 24, there were no grounds for serious forecasts about any foreseeable prospect for the Trio’s membership in the EU. However, the conflict that began offered Kyiv an opportunity to accelerate the process as much as possible and jump several steps on the way to European integration, putting Brussels in a rather awkward position. Tbilisi and Chisinau did not miss their chances either, rushing, as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba put it, to “attach their wagons to the Ukrainian high-speed train”.
If we talk about the candidate status specifically, it seems that the issue should be resolved to the advantage of the applicants. Kyiv is constantly adding fuel to this topic through emotional manipulation (claims about tens of thousands of Ukrainians who gave their lives for the European dream sound impressive) and even by sending barely veiled threats - at least that is how one can interpret Kuleba’s words who said that Ukraine “will not swallow” the refusal to grant candidate status.
However, even if we take it as an axiom that candidacy is a done deal, what happens next? The new status itself will give Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova certain advantages, such as access to funds to implement reforms. But it no longer means “inevitable” membership, as we have already pointed out.
By and large, the current war on the continent has been the most unpleasant surprise for the European Union, which has already entailed a number of shock consequences. For example, the new migration crisis: millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war and mobilization quickly flooded most EU countries. This is compounded by huge economic losses from the sanctions war with Russia, as well as growing domestic discontent over unusually high inflation for the population, with a future threat of large-scale political shifts. Given the forecasts of a prolonged war, the risks in the energy and food security sectors will constantly increase, and managing them is not a trivial task.
Another extremely ambitious and onerous task for the EU is to build the now missing autonomous defense and collective security capacities. This will also involve a partial militarization of the Union and, most likely, the transfer of some key powers from national to supranational bodies.
In fact, we are talking about another revitalization of the European Union, which many prominent politicians and experts are already talking about quite openly and frankly. The current crisis has shown that the EU in its present form is unable to respond effectively and quickly enough to the challenges, and suffers from disunity. We can assume that later this year the internal transformation processes will be launched, which will build a more centralized command system where Germany and France as the Union’s locomotives will play the leading role, where the veto will be abandoned in favor of the majority decision-making and other structural changes will follow.
Hence, we can expect that the EU, along with the continued counteraction to Russia, will introvert in order to reframe and rebuild itself into some improved version. Certainly, involvement of new members from outside in this process is hardly possible, since they will only make things more complicated and bring additional confusion and chaos. Especially when we are talking about the Eastern Partnership countries which, except geographically, do not qualify for proper membership or even for the start of negotiations thereon.
At the same time, in the current international context, Brussels cannot afford to completely rebuff the countries that yearn for European integration: these territories must definitely be anchored in the European, more broadly - in the Western sphere of influence. Apparently, EU leaders see one way to solve this dilemma by offering, next to the non-binding candidate status, a new format of cooperation, some kind of improved Eastern Partnership, with tastier bonuses but without a direct link to the prospect of membership.
French President Emmanuel Macron was the first to publicly express this idea the day before, proposing the creation of a “European political community”, which would allow “democratic European countries that share European values to find a new space for cooperation with the EU in politics, security, energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, and the free movement of citizens”. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also hailed this proposal. It is noteworthy that Macron was quick to clarify that this kind of community is not a precondition for membership in the European Union.
It is clear that any new association, however nicely it is called, will not equal membership in the EU, something that is well understood in the Trio capitals. No wonder that Kyiv's first reaction to the initiative was negative
. However, this surrogate is likely to be the only real available option for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, at least in the next few years. This certainly does not look like a proper way of making the European dream come true – but on the other hand, three months ago even such options were hardly imaginable.