OP-ED

The center is moving east

For the first time yesterday, the European Commission published the evaluations for the ten aspiring countries for EU membership. The assessment showed that during 2023 Ukraine and Moldova have performed far better in undertaking European reforms than eight other countries. At this rate, they will soon dethrone Serbia and Montenegro as the "front-runners" of the enlargement process.

Yesterday the European Commission presented the latest enlargement package. Although it was the last enlargement package, it was the first enlargement package that included the ten aspiring countries for EU membership. Thus, yesterday was a good day to understand that today's expansion enjoys the political attention that the weather has not enjoyed. We saw this from the first moment, when the president of the European Commission appeared in the media room of the European Commission filled with journalists to present the latest enlargement package. This was in stark contrast to years past, where we have become accustomed to this presentation being made by the commissioner of Expansion in front of an almost empty media room. The raising of the enlargement banner at the press conference was a reflection of the rise in political importance of enlargement within the EU.

But it wasn't just the political choreography that was important. Yesterday, beyond the choreography, historic decisions were made for the expansion process. First, it was recommended to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. This is in the full sense of the word historical moment. To celebrate this moment in 2014, mass protests were organized in Kiev, the pro-Russian government was overthrown and over 100 protesters were killed. Today, ten years later, the dreams of those protesters came true. And all this thanks to Putin. It is impossible to overstate how much things have changed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has been unthinkable to believe that the EU would ever agree to treat countries in its "eastern neighbourhood" as potential candidates for EU membership. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine not only has this become a reality, but it has become a reality in record time. Never in the history of enlargement have two countries – such as Ukraine and Moldova – moved so quickly from applying for candidate country status, to receiving candidate country status, to the recommendation to start accession negotiations today. All this in less than twenty months. Albania needed thirteen years for the same journey. Bosnia also benefited from this new momentum in the framework of expansion. Although it received the status of a candidate country only last year, the European Commission recommended the start of negotiations, after the full fulfillment of fourteen key criteria. And the third important decision was cementing the EU's eastern border by offering conditional candidate country status to Georgia.