Andrius Kubilius. A Place Of Betrayal For Ukraine And Europe – The Future European Council?2023-12-03 | Ukraine, European Union
The European Council will meet on 14-15 December. President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda will also attend. But this will not be an ordinary Council. The decision of the Council in mid-December will be decisive for the future course of European history.
Because it must decide to approve the European Commission’s recommendation to open formal negotiations with Ukraine (and Moldova) on their future EU membership.
But such a decision may be not taken.
Because Hungary threatens to block it. Orban does not love Ukraine. But he is friends with Putin. And Austria might block Ukraine if there is no positive decision on Bosnia. And the Netherlands are ready to block Bosnia’s accession. Therefore, all the decisions can be postponed until March next year. And there comes time when the Commission’s mandate ends together with the new European Parliament elections. In addition, Hungary will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU from the middle of the year. And so on.
The corridors of Brussels are full of such rumours and news. They are also full of sad assessments that, despite Russia’s war against Ukraine and the geopolitical crisis facing the entire European continent, EU leaders still do not seem to understand that the EU enlargement is the EU’s most serious geopolitical response to the Russian aggression. As a result, there is as yet no sign of any change from the desperate and sad experience of the last decades of enlargement, when negotiations and enlargement to the Western Balkans were proceeding at a pace that could be likened to a turtle race.
If the European Council adopts the same negotiating and enlargement tactics with Ukraine, where decisions are blocked and delayed while processes proceed at a turtle pace, it will be a betrayal of Ukraine, as well as a betrayal of the whole of Europe. Because the fate not only of Ukraine, but also of the whole of Europe depends on whether Ukraine becomes a member of the EU within the next decade. The European Union’s failure to realise such an enlargement will demonstrate that Europe is unable (or unwilling) to overcome the Kremlin’s resistance to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration. This will be as much a defeat for the West in the face of the authoritarian Russia as the West’s inability to achieve a military victory on the Ukrainian front.
And the fact that the next European Council is on the verge of such a betrayal can be seen in a text published yesterday by Gerald Knaus, a well-known Austrian expert, based in Berlin (who is also well aware of what is going on in the EU capitals), and who heads the influential think-tank “European Stability Iniatitive”. The text is brief, ringing all the alarm bells and stating the prospect of a harsh reality: “How enlargement dies”.
In order to understand why it is necessary to ring all the alarm bells, here is the full text by Gerald Knaus.
But before that, I urge to pay attention to the fact that the alarm bells are being rung by an Austrian expert from Berlin. For some reason, I do not hear a similar passionate understanding of the dangers of “non-enlargement” from experts from the Central Europe or the Baltic States. Nor do I hear such concern from those who attend the European Council meetings. Including those representing Lithuania. What does this mean: are Gerald Knaus’s concerns unfounded; or are those attending the European Council simply indifferent to the prospects for enlargement and to the fate of Ukraine?
Indifference is an alternative name for betrayal.
Gerald Knaus. How enlargement dies (part one)
(published at: https://twitter.com/rumeliobserver/status/1730951944510771378)
Blocking accession talks with Ukraine & Moldova would be disastrous – unfair, destabilizing political madness.
But it looks ever more likely.
Orban blocks Ukraine. If Bosnia is blocked, Austria blocks others. The Dutch block Bosnia. Bulgaria blocks North Macedonia. As for Kosovo or Albania … (others often hide behind those who block)
Only those who paid no attention to the last two decades – and to the Balkans – are surprised by what is starting to hit Ukraine & Moldova. Nothing was more predictable.
Since Croatia joined the EU in 2013, EU member states have played this game with all Balkan candidates.
Kosovo? “A European perspective”. But since it applied for accession: no sound. No response. Silence. But: “do this or that not to threaten your European perspective.”
North Macedonia? “Solve relations with your neighbors”. It did, with Greece. Then France blocked, for no reason at all. Then Bulgaria – with outrageous demands related to history, backed by the whole EU. Now blaming Skopje.
Montenegro? A Nato-member, fully aligned on foreign policy, less than 700.000 people: still beyond EU “absorption capacity.” After 11 years of negotiations the message is: “not before 2030, but probably not even then.” Why?
Albania? For years it was “wait for North Macedonia.” Now it might be blocked by Greece. And when the first chapter is opened, one day, it will still be a decade behind Montenegro in this turtle race.
Bosnia? Too sad to recount. Never ending, ever shifting pre-conditions, more than for any other candidate ever. Meanwhile: impositions of laws by a vice-roy with unlimited powers.
If Balkan states are stuck, it is said that this is because 1. they do not reform. And if they reform, 2. they must wait for EU to get ready and get united. And 3. deal with bilateral vetos. Or wait for others.
All accompanied by never-changing rhetoric: the process is “meritocratic”; “strict but fair”; with “fundamentals first”; about the “rule of law”. Black is white. Words mean little.
What to do?
First: acknowledge reality. Second: design an accession process with a credible goal for all, now. This can still be done.
The bus without wheels: https://www.esiweb.org/newsletter/elephants-skopje-balkan-turtle-race-and-ukraine
Gerald Knaus’s suggestions on what needs to be changed in the enlargement strategy are practical and easy to implement. I myself have made very similar suggestions publicly, and even some of the European Parliament’s resolutions mention them.
– Part of the Old Europe is afraid of enlargement because the European Union’s institutions and decision-making mechanisms are supposedly not yet adapted to such an enlarged EU. Hungary’s wasteful use of the veto has frightened many, because it is feared that Ukraine, Moldova and the other newcomers from the Western Balkans will do the same with the veto.
– That is why the Old Europe is demanding that, before the next wave of EU enlargement, the EU institutions be reformed and that the veto be removed from the EU decision-making.
– the New Europe, including Lithuania, does not want to give up the veto.
– The EU enlargement process is stuck at this crossroads, and the Central Europe is not willing to sacrifice its veto for the sake of Ukraine’s membership of the European Union (in my opinion, this is a tragic mistake on the part of the New Europe).
– The confrontation and pitfalls of the proponents of such “institutional reforms” v.s. “rapid enlargement” can be avoided if the upcoming European Council hears Gerald Knaus’ proposal (which I wholeheartedly endorse), and decides that in the initial period Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans will be able to negotiate and pursue their membership of the EU’s Single Market (which is a major part of membership of the EU itself), given that membership of the Single Market does not confer the right to participate in the EU decision-making and does not require immediate reform of EU institutions. Similarly, the Scandinavian countries made a similar transition to EU membership in the early 1990s through the intermediate step of Single Market membership.
– This would avoid the notion that enlargement must be linked to the institutional and decision-making reform from the outset; this would reassure the Old Europe; and this would allow the New Europe to enjoy the prospect of enlargement moving out of a decades-long stagnation (which looks set to be prolonged, if the December European Council is as unsuccessful as it at the moment seems to be). The EU candidate countries (Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans) could rejoice that they are on the road to a reliably achievable and practically exceptionally useful goal: membership of the Single Market (membership of the Single Market is what has brought the most economic benefits to Lithuania; the same would be true for Ukraine).
I don’t myself like to make accusations such as “treason”. But I cannot remain indifferent either.
Meanwhile, today, some of those who are involved in decision-making are watching indifferently as the enlargement of the European Union is about to be killed off; others, who are not involved in decision-making, are watching indifferently as those who are going to decide, take over and kill off the enlargement; and then everybody will start to worry and to criticise each other.
When during recent weeks I see how the roads to Ukraine are blocked by Polish and Slovak truckers, thus destroying the Ukrainian economy no less than Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports; when I see Germany refusing to approve €50 billion aid for Ukraine from the EU budget, and Hungary promising to block the European Council’s decision to open negotiations with Ukraine, while others are promising to block the entire enlargement process; and when I see all this happening in a kind of dubious silence among Europeans – when I see all this, I can honestly say that it all seems like treason to me.
I can only repeat once again that indifference is also tantamount to the betrayal.
However, indifference is sometimes harder to notice. But not this time…
If it happens, a betrayal will be called a betrayal. And it will be known who has betrayed. And who were its indifferent accomplices. And it will be known where the betrayal took place. Possibly in the next European Council.