From the outset, Zelenskiy made candidacy for EU membership one of his three main asks to the west, alongside his urgent request for more weapons and sanctions. A recent opinion poll conducted in Ukraine’s western and central regions – polling was impossible in the east because of the war – found 89% support for EU membership.
Who can doubt that Ukrainians have been fighting and dying for Europe? Explaining the commission’s positive recommendation, a senior Brussels official said: “The commission does not forget that Ukraine is the only country in Europe where people died, where people were shot at because they were on the streets carrying EU flags. Now we cannot tell them, ‘Sorry, guys, you were waving the wrong flags.’”
But this is also a strategic choice for Europe as a whole. At issue is not just Europe’s second-largest country. Besides recommending that Ukraine should be given candidate status, “on the understanding that” certain specific steps will be taken, the commission proposes the same status for Moldova, which is sandwiched between Ukraine and EU member Romania, “on the understanding that” somewhat broader changes are made. It has also recommended opening accession negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia. Beyond that, there will be the rest of the western Balkans, Georgia and potentially, one day, a democratic Belarus.
Handled right, this second great eastern enlargement would make the European Union not just bigger but also more self-sufficient in food, stronger militarily and with more potential for economic growth. We Europeans would end up better able to defend our interests and values as we sit precariously between a revanchist Russia, a rising China and a declining United States. This widening of the EU would also require further deepening, since otherwise a community of 35 member states would be dysfunctional. In the long run, the inclusion of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia would mean that Russia would finally have to reconcile itself to having lost an empire – and start seeking a role as a modern nation state. (Britain shows how long that process can take.) So this second wave of eastern enlargement would be another big step towards a Europe whole and free. [Continue reading…]