EU Enlargement Failure? Ukraine Still Has Not Yet Gained Membership Status

The European Union was founded by The Six countries in 1957, and with its Enlargement policy the European Union has managed to embrace most countries in Europe.

The European Union was founded by The Six countries in 1957, and with its Enlargement policy the European Union has managed to embrace most countries in Europe. This Enlargement policy is used as a strategy to increase integration, welfare, and the European economy. To now the EU has 27 member states, as well as 9 candidate countries including Ukraine. As one of the candidate countries, Ukraine has submitted its membership application in February 2022, and received candidate status in June 2022, then the EU Commission opened official negotiations in December 2023. Of course, Ukraine’s accession process to become a member state of the European Union is carried out through strict stages and requirements, until now Ukraine is still trying to fulfill all the requirements to become a member state. However, the process of Ukraine’s accession to the EU shows that there are quite controversial aspects of this Enlargement policy, which raises questions regarding the consistency and effectiveness of the EU Enlargement policy. When looking at the attitudes of EU member states, not all member states fully support Ukraine’s membership, for example Poland and other Baltic states, which support Ukraine’s accession to help improve Ukraine’s security and sovereignty against Russian military invasion. Meanwhile, some Western European countries, such as the Netherlands and France, have not shown their full support due to doubts and concerns regarding the consequences that will arise if Ukraine is accepted as a member. Especially from a political point of view, given the condition of Ukraine which at that time was at war with Russia. Ukraine’s entry into the EU would very likely lead to geopolitical tensions in the European region. The different considerations and priorities of each EU member state also complicate the EU’s ability to pursue enlargement policies and become a gap between EU commitments and EU interests. In addition, there is also a suspicion of double standards in the EU’s enlargement policy approach. There have been criticisms that in practice, the EU exhibits unfair behavior such as applying inconsistent criteria and timelines to different candidate countries. Ukraine’s accession process proves this double standard approach when compared to other countries’ accession processes. For example, Croatia submitted its EU membership application in early 2003, prior to this it was deemed unable to fulfill the requirements for membership, especially in the settlement of judicial cases related to the arrest of war criminals and refugees, Croatia did not yet have a full cooperation relationship with the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), this became an obstacle in the process of negotiating Croatia’s membership, until 2 years later the negotiation process could be resumed after the ICTY stated that it had full cooperation with Croatia. Croatia was granted membership status in 2013, not only because of Croatia’s ability to fulfill all the requirements but also because of the interests of the European Union itself, namely, the European Union views that Croatia can be used as a Pilot Project for the Balkan countries, which shows that the geopolitical interests of the European Union will greatly affect the smooth accession of its candidate countries. Another example is the granting of candidate status to Serbia and Montenegro in 2010, even though both countries had just experienced the issue of separatism from the Serbian Union with the declaration of independence of Kosovo and Montenegro in 2006. Although both Ukraine and these two were facing the political situation of nationalism and political intervention, the Six countries seemed more enthusiastic in supporting Serbia and Montenegro for the purpose of EU enlargement to the Balkans.

Nevertheless, all decisions taken by the European Union in its Enlargement policy are certainly made with various considerations. The European Union also faces its own challenges, especially institutionally because it needs approval from each member state in the expansion policy. In simple terms, the European Union certainly considers its capacity in expansion, especially since Ukraine is a large country, so the integration process will be very complex and take a long time to achieve harmonization. From a political point of view, the conflict that Ukraine is experiencing with Russia is a very significant consideration and obstacle in Ukraine’s accession, the European Union and all member countries will likely experience tensions both from geopolitics and security if they are too hasty in the Ukrainian accession process, given the presence of Russia and the attitude of its president who is quite militaristic. Therefore the EU is trying to avoid any possible direct confrontation with Russia. Internally, Ukraine needs many adjustments to meet the criteria set by the EU. Such as solving the problem of corruption, strengthening Ukraine’s legal system and institutions, and the process of restoring Ukraine’s condition after the invasion.  The EU also considers this in economic terms, where Ukraine’s GDP per capita was only $4,830 in 2021, significantly lower than the EU average of $34,000. The EU is not just waiting for Ukraine to get better on its own, it is also providing $45 billion worth of support by 2023 for the economic losses they have incurred. In accordance with the second principle of the enlargement policy, accession negotiations are focused on creating practicality for the country wishing to join. Both the EU and Ukraine sought adjustments for smooth accession despite the obstacles and barriers. The EU’s treatment of Ukraine is a form of consistency to maintain the standards of the Enlargement policy.

This situation can be explained by the Poliheuristic Theory proposed by Alex Mintz 1999. In simple terms, this theory tries to explain that in making decisions for foreign policy, it cannot only be seen from the results of the decision, but must also be seen through the process. In this theory, it is explained that policymakers make decisions through two stages, the first stage is done by eliminating based on critical dimensions to avoid great losses, and the second stage is the evaluation stage where policymakers analyze alternatives more comprehensively by considering the advantages and disadvantages for domestic politics. In the first stage, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is one of the most important elimination criteria, because it will lead to political and security tensions, and will disrupt the bilateral relations between the EU and Russia. The EU cannot ignore this risk by accelerating Ukraine’s accession even though Ukraine has made a lot of progress in fulfilling the requirements to become a member state. Furthermore, in the compensation phase, where Ukraine’s entry also needs to be assessed from the EU’s domestic aspects, how much benefit will be gained and and to what extent losses can be avoided. With the current condition of Ukraine, the European Union will face considerable economic pressure to accommodate Ukraine as a new country affected by the conflict, considering that Ukraine is a large country with a high population. Therefore the EU still needs to balance its domestic politics first, rather than prioritizing enlargement.

The perception of unfair treatment of the European Union and the suspicion of double standards that occur in the Enlargement policy approach cannot be used as a justification for the failure of the European Union in its expansion policy. Through this poliheuristic theory analysis, we can understand the extent of the process that the European Union has attempted in considering all possibilities in Ukraine’s accession process, leading to the decision not to accept Ukraine as a member. This is a realistic and fair decision for the EU, considering that at both stages of decision-making the adverse effects that might occur are still very large and difficult to avoid. In the end, the effectiveness of the Enlargement policy is inseparable from the extent of the EU’s ability to create the best strategy to fulfill its domestic and foreign interests.

Ayu Umaroh
Ayu Umaroh
Ayu Umaroh is a third-year International Relations student at Andalas University in Indonesia. She has a strong interest in global politics and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During her studies, she has been involved in various academic projects and volunteer activities that explore the complexities of international relations. When not studying, she enjoys reading fiction/non-fiction books and watching movies, as she is certain that knowledge can be acquired in a fun way.