Vasyl Belmega and Ievgen Vorobiov on EU Neighbourhood and China-CEE Relations
Vasyl Belmega is from the Eastern Partnership, Turkey and Russia, European Policy Cener (EPC); Ievgen Vorobiov is from the EU Neighbourhood, Foreign and Security Policy Unit, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Both think-tanks are based in Brussels.
Q: Croatia is to join the European Union in 2013. Why can Croatia become the first Western Balkan state to succeed? Are there any special reasons behind this?
Belmega: You are right. Croatia is the first country in the Western Balkans to fulfill EU accession “benchmarks”, and demonstrated that the prospect of enlargement is real. I would rather say that the country kept up its reform momentum in the right way, as well as it was able to iron out its territory and ethnic disputes for the sake of European integration. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that Croatia is a small country with a population of less than 1% of the EU; therefore its accession will not reshuffle the balance of the current economic and budgetary status quo in the EU, nor will it put a burden on the functioning of the EU institutions. This is a fact which cannot be neglected in the EU enlargement discourse and process.
Vorobiov: Technically, Croatia is not the first Western Balkan to accede the EU: Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, joined the Union in 2004. Croatia has long been a more complicated case due to the conditions of not only compliance with acquis, but also a number of political conditions arising from the post-war settlement. In my view, Croatia was the boldest of the remaining Western Balkan states in implementing the necessary its commitments within the Stabilization and Association Process.
Q: The EU’s enlargement process is an important topic in European studies. Which issues do you believe are the most important? What kind of methodology do you use for the research of the topic?
Belmega: Enlargement is not just a technical process of the rearrangement of EU legislation in order to check a box in an accession dossier. Following the last wave of enlargement in 2004 and the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, the EU is much more assertive in terms of proper implementation of adopted requirements along with maintaining rule of law, the fight against corruption, independent judiciary and efficient administration. I think these issues are key in estimating countries’ success.
Vorobiov: Currently, the most critical issue for all enlargement countries (except for Iceland) appears to be the rule of law. Scholars rely on a number of studies and official documents, such as the Commission's annual progress reports assessing the situation in the countries of the Enlargement lot.
Q: Turkey has been in the waiting room for such a long period of time. Why?
Belmega: There are a lot of issues on the ground, including political issues, that do not allow Turkey to push ahead quickly with its accession process. At the same time, some member states are afraid to lose the weight of their power in the EU decision-making process following Turkey’s accession. In my opinion, the EU leaves the door open for Turkey’s membership even if the accession process is stocked sometimes, but there is no proper initiative from the EU, nor political will from its member states to welcome the country and to let it in smoothly.
Vorobiov: It is a complicated issue, which combines both internal factors in the EU Member States and external factors such as Turkey's progress in implementing the EU acquis.
Q: Ukraine is also eager to join the EU. What hinders its ambitions? When can it meet the EU’s requirements?
Belmega: In terms of declarations, Ukraine is continuously pursuing its EU membership ambitions. However, concrete deeds are not in place. Ukraine’s current commitments are not yet fulfilled for a further deepening of relations with the EU. At the same time, the EU does not make the Ukrainian membership perspective clear. Therefore, Ukraine’s membership perspective will definitely be on hold in a midterm perspective.
Vorobiov: According to the recent Council Conclusions, selective justice and election legislation remain significant obstacles to the signing of the Association Agreement between the two parties.
Q: China seems to have paid more attention to the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Even there was summit for China and the CEE. What do you think of this new development? Is the EU concerned about the warm relationship?
Belmega: CEE and China have robust trade ties; therefore so called “warm” relations are reasonable. In the meantime, I have doubts that this issue is a matter of concern for the EU or that it is a top priority for its geopolitical agenda.
Vorobiov: To be honest, I am not an expert on the EU's position towards China's engagement with this region. However, considering the increasing dynamism of trade and investment between the EU and China, such a development is hardly a "surprise" or a "shock" to policy-makers in Brussels and in member states.
Q: What do you think of “two-speed Europe”? With Croatia and other EEC nations, would there be a multi-speed Europe?
Belmega: The EU has a very complicated system of governance. In the end, all decisions are the product of long-awaited compromises between all the different countries for ironing out their division lines. Therefore, I do not think that Croatia and CEE can manage their own new track, nor do they have an explicit intention to do so.
Vorobiov: It is a very contested question, especially considering Mr. Cameron's recent speech on the UK future in the EU.
Q: Some say the European debt crisis was the result of the EU’s eastern enlargement. Why not?
Belmega: The debt crisis is not just a typical European headache; I can’t find a connection between these issues.
Vorobiov: Most Eastern European economies, notably Poland, have weathered the turmoil of the crisis rather well. Others, such as Slovakia and Estonia, have even adopted the euro despite the debt crisis in the Eurozone. In my view, blaming the new members for unleashing the crisis is wrong.
Q: In the end of the day, all the European countries will join the EU. How far away is this dream?
Belmega: It’s very difficult to comment on dreams, especially without knowing to whom they belong.
Vorobiov: This is, unfortunately, a question to which I have no answer.