The War in Ukraine Has Put EU Enlargement Back in the Spotlight

The War in Ukraine Has Put EU Enlargement Back in the Spotlight
A demonstrator holds a poster outside the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2022 (AP photo by Valentin Bianchi).

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has unexpectedly put the issue of European Union enlargement back into the spotlight. But whereas before the war, most of the focus when it came to new EU membership was on the Balkans, now all eyes are on Ukraine.

For those hoping that the EU would respond to the war by acting on Kyiv’s emergency membership bid, the EU’s summit conclusions on March 25 made for disappointing reading. The wide-ranging discussions covered various potential responses to the Russian invasion, among them sanctions on Russia’s energy exports to Europe, various proposals to support Ukraine’s military effort and a solidarity funding mechanism to underpin EU cohesion around the response. Ultimately, though, none of these measures were adopted.

Perhaps most galling to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky—who made a passionate plea to the European Council to take Ukraine’s application for EU membership seriously—was the passage in the summit’s declaration acknowledging Ukraine’s choice of a European path, but making no promises beyond a European Commission opinion on its membership prospects in good time.

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