The EU must assume geopolitical leadership vis-à-vis its Eastern neighbourhood, writes MEP David McAllister.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.
Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine changed our world overnight.
The people of Ukraine are not only fighting for their home country. They are bravely defending the values of democracy, freedom and peace that we in the European Union enjoy. This war has not only altered the European security architecture – it has had an immediate and fundamental impact on the EU's own future.
Only five days after the tragic events on 24 February, Ukraine presented its application for EU membership. The Republic of Moldova and Georgia followed suit with their respective bids.
In the midst of the Russian aggression, these three countries aspire for freedom, sovereignty, democracy and peace. The European integration project is based on these central values, with solidarity, reconciliation and cooperation at its very core.
The EU has overcome enormous challenges to achieve the longest period of peace in our continent’s history. Now, we must re-learn to think geopolitically and strategically. We cannot afford to lose further time.
The European neighbourhood policy is at a historic moment. It must be realistic but at the same time take into account the new geopolitical realities.
This week, the European Council will take decisions on whether to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, based on the individual assessments unveiled by the European Commission. On top of that, an EU-Western Balkans meeting is supposed to take place.
The Commission has already confirmed Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia's European perspective. Granting Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status sends a clear political message that the countries have irreversibly chosen a European path. At the same time, we should work towards granting the same status to Georgia once a number of requirements have been met.
As in previous accessions, these countries must fulfil all political, judicial and economic necessary preconditions before joining the EU as full-time members. Based on the "Copenhagen criteria," I welcome that the Commission has presented the necessary steps for all countries in an objective manner.
It is obvious the governments in Kyiv, Chișinău and Tbilisi have a long way ahead. Ambitious reforms have still to be implemented. This includes inter alia reducing corruption, improving the functioning of their market economies, modernising the administration and further aligning with the EU acquis.
The candidate status is only the beginning of a merit-based, lengthy and challenging process involving conditionality. At this moment, a war is ongoing in the heart of Europe. The EU's focus is on supporting Ukraine financially, politically, militarily as well as with humanitarian aid.
However, we must look further.
In this regard, the European Parliament calls to review the European neighbourhood policy. It is about thoroughly assessing the impact of Russia's war against Ukraine on cooperation with the countries of the Western Balkans and within the Eastern Partnership.
The enlargement process must be more predictable, more dynamic and more political. We must make much clearer what we require from accession countries and what we offer in return if they deliver on the conditions. The Commission should make proposals for intermediary steps to integrate candidate countries into the EU on their way to full membership.
With this in mind, a "European political community" has been proposed, notably by President Emmanuel Macron of France.
This new idea needs to be further analysed if it aims to complement our strategy for the neighbourhood. The right way is to strengthen our relations with candidate states as well as with non-EU countries across Europe.
The EU already provides different kind of relations with our most immediate neighbours, depending on the level of integration they freely choose to pursue.
An umbrella platform could lead to assist candidate countries on the path towards the EU with the first stage of integration into the EU Single Market.
Also, a more intensive cooperation on security and defence policy in Europe could be an element, including strengthening our resilience against disinformation campaigns, fake news and authoritarian propaganda.
Primarily, it should be about exploring innovative ways to advance the accession talks and incentivise reform. But I must stress that a new political community should not be a waiting room for EU aspirants.
The EU must assume geopolitical leadership vis-à-vis the Eastern neighbourhood and the Western Balkans. We need to combine two approaches: first, to invest in the success of democracies. This requires that our policies towards those aspiring to join the EU family are transparent, coherent, merit-based and clear. At the same time, it also requires increased technical, financial and political assistance from the bloc.
For this to happen, the EU’s enlargement process needs to stay high on the agenda.
Second, it is about enhancing our foreign, security and defence policy against the background of an aggressive authoritarian Kremlin regime. The issues raised by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine go far beyond the tragic situation and the EU's enlargement policy.
The European Union has to equip itself urgently with the means and tools to respond to global strategic competition and complex security threats.
There must be no hesitation or disunity. In this moment of geopolitical re-definition, EU leaders must live up to their historical responsibility.
David McAllister is a German Member of the European Parliament whosits with the European People's Party (EPP) and chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs.