Espreso. Global

How Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are approaching EU membership — Kyiv Security Forum analysis

10 November, 2023 Friday

Recent events indicate that the West, including the EU, is increasingly recognizing the strategic importance of a comprehensive approach to the "Ukrainian region," encompassing part of Europe from Ukraine to the Caucasus. Moreover, concrete steps are being taken, sometimes proactively, to enhance influence in the region and consequently diminish Moscow's influence

This is stated in the article by the Kyiv Security Forum (KSF).

On November 8, the European Commission recommended that the European Council decide to open accession negotiations with Ukraine at its December summit. This recommendation turned out to be conditional. According to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Ukraine has fulfilled over 90% of the recommendations put forward by the EC along with the granting of candidate status. Therefore, the EC proposes that the negotiation framework, without which it is physically impossible to start negotiations, be approved by the EU Council after Ukraine completes the necessary reforms. The EC will report on Ukraine's readiness in March 2024.

The authors emphasize that, as for Ukraine, "we are expected to increase the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine staffing; remove from the law on corruption prevention provisions that limit the NACP's powers to verify assets that have already been verified and limit the NACP's powers to verify property acquired by declarants before entering public service; adopt a law on lobbying as part of the anti-oligarchic action plan; and adopt the remaining recommendations of the Venice Commission of June 2023 and October 2023 related to the Law on National Ministries.”

The opinions of Ukrainian experts are divided as to whether these requirements are justified. However, it seems that without the full satisfaction of the European Commission, including the Hungarian European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, who is apparently associated with additional recommendations on minority rights, the start of negotiations is problematic.

"Ukraine is not the only candidate country facing a conditional decision to start accession negotiations. It took about two years from the moment the political decision was made to the actual start of accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia. In order to avoid such a fate for Ukraine, it is necessary not only to intensify legislative work in the Verkhovna Rada, but also to work diplomatically with partners," the article says.

According to the authors, the EC's decision on Moldova is similar: the recommendation to open accession negotiations with a delay in providing a negotiating framework until March.

The article states that despite the EU's consistent support, not everything is going smoothly in Moldova's European integration process. According to preliminary data from the Central Election Commission, during the recent local elections, the pro-Russian candidate from the opposition party National Alternative Movement, Ion Ceban, who was running for a second term as mayor of Chisinau, won 50.58% of the vote in the first round. He also managed to win the largest faction in the Chisinau City Council, and thus may gain an arithmetic coalition majority. According to experts, socialists, communists, and deputies from the Revival party, even if they are not formally part of the coalition, will vote with him. At the same time, the ruling Action and Solidarity party won in 19 of the country's 32 districts. This figure is much better than in the 2019 elections. However, the loss of pro-European parties in Chisinau gives observers reason to believe that this is a wake-up call for possible further electoral changes and to call the new or old mayor of the city a serious contender in the next presidential election.

However, the decisions on Ukraine and Moldova were generally expected. What was not expected in this EC's enlargement package was the recommendation to the EU Council to grant candidate status to Georgia, subject to a number of steps.

"The EC's desire not to push Georgia even further into Moscow's hands, as well as the lobbying of Hungary, with which official Tbilisi has recently become closer on the basis of relations with Moscow, worked in favor of granting Georgia conditional candidate status. By the way, the Hungarian lobbying was on the verge of an ultimatum - either a decision on Ukraine together with a decision on Georgia, or blocking the decision on Ukraine," the report says.

However, the authors emphasize that the requirements that the EC expects Georgia to fulfill are so serious that they will mean a real turnaround in its foreign and domestic policy towards the EU and European values. 

The Georgian authorities claim to have implemented at least 10 of the 12 reforms. However, the European Commission has recognized only three reforms as completed: strengthening gender equality, implementing ECHR judgments, and electing an independent public defender (ombudsman). 

Another post-Soviet region that has been in conflict for decades and was once openly pro-Russian, the South Caucasus, is gradually moving closer to peace under US mediation based on the principles of international law.

"On November 7, Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan Ararat Mirzoyan and Jeyhun Bayramov held talks in Washington with the participation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The main part of the meeting was held behind closed doors. However, the fact that the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministries issued almost identical statements following the meeting, stating that Mirzoyan and Bayramov ‘exchanged views on the elements of a potential peace treaty and stated that there are a number of problems that still need to be resolved’ is optimistic. The ministers agreed to accelerate the negotiations and ‘organize a follow-up meeting in the coming weeks.’ They also reaffirmed the commitments made by the heads of Armenia and Azerbaijan at their meetings on October 6 in Prague and October 31 in Sochi," the KSF said.

The authors are convinced that Washington's assumption of the role of key mediator gives hope that peace in the South Caucasus will finally be achieved, and on the basis of abandoning Russia's special role in the region. At the same time, it must be recognized that Turkey played a significant role in this reversal, as did Moscow's inability to fulfill its previous commitments to Yerevan because of the war in Ukraine.

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