Ukraine EU membership fast-track causes Georgia ‘fury’ and ‘sabre-rattling’ in Balkans

EU leaders warned on public opinion on Ukraine says Dupuy

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The two eastern European nations “will probably step over that line in the next three years”, according to Professor Amelia Hadfield, head of the University of Surrey’s politics department, leading to “sabre-rattling” among Balkan states who have yet to join. This is despite Moldova being “streets away” from meeting the bloc’s standards for entry, prompting questions over the fairness of the process.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine five months ago led to a flurry of applications for new members to the union, as eastern neighbours looked to align themselves further with the West.

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have all now applied to become new, full members of the EU – the latter of which has been supported by Britain for many years.

In June, the EU Parliament insisted there was no “fast-track” avenue to membership, but also voted to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova “without delay”.

European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, noted in a speech a few weeks ago that Ukraine was “the only country where people got shot because they wrapped themselves in a European flag”.

She added its “desire” to be a member had been answered “explicitly” by the bloc.

Professor Hadfield suggested in an interview with that “of all of the Eastern neighbourhood countries, Ukraine is the furthest up front; it came perilously close in 2014 anyway”.

She continued: “Moldova has been brought in simply because of the enormous number of Ukrainian refugees that [have] come into Moldova – so it’s quite a geopolitical statement to bring Moldova in, because it suggests it’s like mini-Ukraine rather than a state in and of itself.

“Moldova is streets away, quite frankly, streets away from any form of enlargement.”

Since the war began, over 460,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed into the country – nearly a fifth of its total population, giving it the highest proportion of refugees per capita.

But another candidate, Georgia, is “further ahead than Ukraine” when it comes to meeting the EU’s entry standards – and another eastern European nation to have faced Russian aggression, in 2008.

Professor Hadfield commented: “Georgia is furious now that it hasn’t been fast-tracked.

“And now you’ve also got a bit of sabre-rattling down in the Balkans because, of course, these guys have been waiting patiently – or maybe less so – for the last ten years, turning in their warlords rebuilding their bridges left right and centre – only to be pipped to the post by Ukraine, because they happen to be lucky enough to be invaded by Russia.

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“To some degree, there’s a bit of a question mark.”

A team of researchers at the University of Surrey have now received a £658,000 grant through Horizon Europe to provide a critical assessment of the “bleak state” of liberal democracy in eastern Europe over the next three years.

They will serve as one of eleven teams from across Europe who will speak to politicians and stakeholders in eastern European nations vying for EU membership, as well as Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Professor Hadfield noted: “Antagonists are very likely to be able to use – either tacitly or explicitly – individual regimes to their own ends.”

As such, her team of researchers is proposing a “get real” policy for the EU when it comes to the bloc’s neighbours.

She hopes her research will provide the bureaucracy with a “pretty critical” view of where it is failing to shore up democracies and how it can improve its policy towards neighbouring states.

Asked if the EU was getting academics to case potential EU members to see if they are ready to join, she responded: “I think Putin has kind of done that for us.”

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