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Comment on EU enlargement towards Ukraine and Moldova

The June 23-24 European Council produced the following conclusions on the matter of eastward EU enlargement:

10. The European Council recognises the European perspective of Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia. The future of these countries and their citizens lies within the European Union.

11. The European Council has decided to grant the status of candidate country to Ukraine and to the Republic of Moldova.

12. The Commission is invited to report to the Council on the fulfilment of the conditions specified in the Commission’s opinions on the respective membership applications as part of its regular enlargement package. The Council will decide on further steps once all these conditions are fully met.

13. The European Council is ready to grant the status of candidate country to Georgia once the priorities specified in the Commission’s opinion on Georgia’s membership application have been addressed.

14. The progress of each country towards the European Union will depend on its own merit in meeting the Copenhagen criteria, taking into consideration the EU’s capacity to absorb new members.

While promises and commitments should not be given more weight than they deserve, the statement of intent is clear while its timing is no coincidence. This is part of a concerted effort to challenge Russia on all fronts.

The European Union has been acting as the informal political arm of NATO in the region since the first days of the Ukraine affair and, generally, through its eastward enlargement into former USSR countries, which overlaps with NATO’s own expansion in the area. While Ukrainians rightly see the ongoing conflict as a matter of self-defence and have every right to oppose an aggressor, imperialist forces within NATO and Russia know this is the current phase in a prolonged proxy war between the two superpowers; a war that both sides are eager to escalate further, on the Ukrainian front and beyond.

Russia’s immediate geopolitical ambition is to create buffers at its western borders, strengthen its presence in the Black Sea, and gradually draw linkages between its holdings/alliances in Armenia, Syria, Libya to expand its control southward and into the Mediterranean Sea. NATO, on the other hand, wants to push the Western sphere of influence further into the European hinterland and towards the Caucasus to consolidate its hegemony over the wider region.

Against this backdrop, the EU is pursuing its foreign policy with an eye to achieve integration in breadth without having first finalised integration in depth. Adding new members to a Union that has yet to achieve homogeneity over a heteroclite collection of nation-states will only amplify the existing tensions and divides.

The EU is a multi-tier construction at least since the Treaty of Maastricht, where a union within a union was introduced: the monetary union, else the Euro. The contradictions of this “variable geometry”, as it is known, have not been reconciled to date. There still is a formal separation between Euro and non-Euro members, but also informal ones such as the division of Euro Area countries into “core” and “periphery” with the latter’s participation in the single currency being dependent on continuous intervention from the European Central Bank. There also exists the tandem of France and Germany, which is the de facto driving force of European affairs and blithely appropriates Europe in pursuit of its agenda.

Picking up a fight with Russia only guarantees that the much-needed work to bring democracy to all levels of the EU architecture will be postponed further. The Union remains an incomplete edifice. What happens at the supranational level suffers from what I term a “mismatch of sovereignty”: we have rules (authority) for the system as a whole, but lack the requisite fully fledged mechanisms of popular participation and the overall accountability of decision-makers.

When, for example, the European Council adopts its decisions, there is no singular entity which can be held accountable. As citizens of individual Member States, we can, in theory, voice our complaints against our respective government, but European citizens cannot challenge the European Council as such. What the European Council decides is a function of the balance of power between the Member States—an intergovernmental affair—which inevitably results in backstage horse trading that can be blamed on no-one in particular.

Asking the question of “who governs?” gives us unsatisfactory answers. Is it the European Commission? No. And if it was, it remains an unelected institution. Is it the European Parliament? Its competences are broader than ever, but it cannot initiate legislation and must co-decide with the Council of the EU (also not elected as a body). Is it the European Council? No, not really because it does not exist as a single entity. Put concretely, you cannot vote the European Council out of office as a whole.

The complexity and incompleteness of the EU contributes to an emergent phenomenon where a collection of democracies (in principle) is not a democracy unto itself. It is not by accident or sheer coincidence that the European Central Bank is the self-appointed protector of the Euro, with no body of citizens capable of scrutinising it. The locus of power is found in technocratic arrangements and intergovernmental coalitions, starting with the Franco-German tandem.

Minds are now concentrated on power politics, while bellicose rhetoric prepares the stage for the inevitable formation of a European military capacity; an army without a Europe-wide democracy bestowing upon it the necessary legitimacy and accountability.

Europeans are quick to condemn Russia’s weaponisation of food supply chains, yet happily ignore how EU membership is instrumentalised in the service of Western imperialism. Enlargement should be preceded by the deepening of integration between existing Member States in the interest of instituting a European Democracy. Instead, membership is used as a means to promote foreign policy stratagems that serve NATO rather than be conducive to the full realisation of European values within the EU.

A multi-tier EU makes it impossible to have a Union-wide demos. The system is so complex that only experts can make sense of it, while the political realities of diverse countries necessitate that each case has its own particularities and requires special treatment. Such a state of affairs favours a bifaceted approach to European affairs that fundamentally caters to the interests of Kerneuropa (core Europe):

  1. Creating and/or strengthening technocratic institutions or mechanisms that enforce rules across the Union;

  2. Keeping power away from citizens by diffusing the locus of authority between bureaucratic arrangements and intergovernmental structures.

While EU cheerleaders will pat themselves on the back for how righteous the Union is for safeguarding “democracy”, the fact of the matter is that more work needs to be done at home before we can pontificate about lofty ideals (and even then we do not have the right to hold the moral high ground, but I digress). For the time being, the crusade to bring “European values” to other countries is misguided. More so when it provides grist to the mill of imperialism.