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Victory for Ukraine Will Also Be Defined by EU Enlargement

June 01, 2022
4 min read
Photo credit: symbiot / Shutterstock.com
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, for the second time in a decade, it not only underestimated the country’s resistance but also the response of the West.

For Europe, this war on its soil of unprecedented scale since the Second World War is an existential matter. The outcomes of this war will define and shape its future.

Russia’s initial attempt at a blitzkrieg failed and the prolonged war has brought new, unexpected developments and side effects. It has revealed the weakness of the aggressor, united the West in an unprecedented way, and made the idea of “Europe whole and at peace” more vital than ever. The latter so much so that Sweden and Finland have decided to join NATO. This was neither a short-term, nor an easy decision on their part but a rather strategic move proving that the future stability and peace of the whole continent lies in a unity that is firm and unquestionable. To achieve this goal, Europe must secure its entire eastern flank from north to south.

The recently mentioned Marshall Plan for Ukraine will therefore be the new, 21st century Marshall Plan for Europe too.

The definition of victory in this war asks for moral, political, and territorial goals. The recently mentioned Marshall Plan for Ukraine will therefore be the new, 21st century Marshall Plan for Europe too. As for the territorial goals, only Ukrainians have the right to decide what is acceptable. The moral and political goals, however, envision the West helping Ukraine rebuild itself while firmly offering it the prospect of joining the EU. The recent idea to offer Ukraine the status of the EU candidate country normally would have been a strong political statement if there were not other countries in Southeastern Europe that have been waiting in line for decades. For Ukrainians to believe that the offer is real, clear signs of progress are needed soon. It is naïve to believe that Ukraine is not taking notice of the saga around the EU’s formal decision to begin accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia.

The EU, on the other hand, will have to significantly speed up the process with all current and future candidates if it wants to secure its prosperity, stability, and peace. The request for a fast track to membership is genuine and justified, and it does not call for disrespecting or avoiding the existing process. But it does mean a much, much more palpable, energetic, transparent, and above all sincere approach by the EU—and potentially making the process more political, as France’s President Emmanuel Macron suggested.

The request for a fast track to membership is genuine and justified, and it does not call for disrespecting or avoiding the existing process.

Regardless of how logical or understandable the arguments for first deepening and only then enlarging the EU are, the current situation calls for action that is bolder and decisive. The soft underbelly of Europe in its southeast is another potentially weak spot. After all, twice in the last decade has Russia invaded Ukraine by using the example of Kosovo for justification.

Ideas to reorganize the EU from within around core countries no doubt results from a sincere desire to make the union more functional and stable. However, one must wonder if this can ever appeal to the younger generations born in the EU but not in these core countries. To them, this arrangement does not answer the needs of the modern, digital 21st century nor it is fair. It is impossible to imagine, especially in the current context, that any EU member in Central and Eastern Europe would opt for a solution that resembles 19th century empire and willingly sign a new treaty that would make them second-class citizens of the union. Add to that the immediate proximity of Russia and an unstable Ukraine with weak, if any, prospects of joining the EU and the calculus for these members is clear. 

Russia is currently gaining ground in Ukraine and negotiations do not seem to be in sight. President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that the war will need to end through diplomatic efforts and not by force. So, while this war will eventually end, its aftermath is being decided now. For Ukraine—and Europe and the West—victory or loss to a great extent will be defined by the EU’s will to make a difficult and brave, effort at enlargement. After all, the Balkan countries and Ukraine are already deeply integrated into the EU, their national legislations have long been aligned with EU directives in various sectors, and the EU has a lot to gain from accepting them as members.

The EU is not alone in this task. Together with the United States and the rest of the West, and with the countries that aspire to join the union, it has a chance to achieve its goal of “Europe whole and at peace.”