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The Future of the EU Looks Rather Bleak

The Future of the EU Looks Rather Bleak

No. 4, Mar.-Apr. 2017 » Bridging News

The last meeting of the European Council, from October 2017, indirectly pulled the plug on Turkey’s negotiations for EU accession. The EU heads of state and government have indirectly expressed their disinterest for the continuation of Ankara’s dialogue with Brussels in this particular regard. The public formula was that of redirecting EU funds for Turkey’s negotiations process to other purposes across the EU.

Turkey was never an easy partner for the European bloc. Its accession talks have been dragging on for nearly two decades. Now, the turnaround is that Turkey may be an uneasy foe for the EU.

Turkey was never an easy partner for the European bloc. Its accession talks have been dragging on for nearly two decades. Now, the turnaround is that Turkey may be an uneasy foe for the EU.

The government headed by President Erdogan is likely frustrated about the Middle Eastern situations and uncertainties. It has also openly expressed its honest intentions regarding some Greek islands in its vicinity, as well as adding some more Greek airspace to its own. Clearly, with Turkey in a new and uncomfortable position relative to the the EU, it will look for a more authoritative push for its interests in the Mediterranean Sea and in the “Cyprus matter”.

The interesting twist is that, while it is being rejected by the Brussels EU establishment, Ankara is making amends with Berlin. The reason is very pragmatic: military deals, i.e. large orders of the German-made weaponry and defense technology.

Turkey also has a say in the Western Balkans, where there is a significant pro-Turkish population whose religious beliefs are increasingly ardent.

But aside from Turkey, what does this mean for the EU over the long term?

It could mean the limitation of the geographic enlargement process. The EU may have reached its territorial borders and maximum span. 

Periphery management 

The EU has developed three peripheral areas of immediate political interest:

  • The Northern Dimension (ND),
  • The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM),
  • The Eastern Partnership (EaP).

It could mean the limitation of the geographic enlargement process. The EU may have reached its territorial borders.

The Northern Dimension (ND) is a joint policy between the European Union and Russia, Norway and Iceland. The ND Policy was initiated in 1999 and renewed in 2006. Since then, the EU’s relations with Russia have changed dramatically. Moscow has also found a new avenue for its efforts, by promoting its own Eurasian Union project.

Iceland has officially ended its accession talks with Brussels in 2015. It remains uncertain if it is interested in resuming such talks in 2018.

Norway is not looking for effective accession to the European bloc.

Therefore, the Northern Dimension remains a forum of dialogue and bilateral cooperation with the EU, not an enlargement agreement.

The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was the major conception of the embattled French President Nicolas Sarkozy. France was honestly opposing Turkey’s accession and the UfM was meant as a tool to bring the Mediterranean countries (places where France already has significant interests and leverage) closer to the EU, while also avoiding Turkey and the complications of actual membership (like having the highest number of European Members of Parliament).

It did not take long before the “Arab Spring” events of 2011 erupted and the entire Northern Africa was affected by major instability. Today, the UfM is mainly concerned with assistance to countries affected by massive migration. Confidence in the initial UfM objectives has diminished on all shores of the Mediterranean Sea. 

A host of complications 

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is an initiative of the EU concerning its relationship with the Eastern states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, intended for discussions on potential accession or enhanced partnership. 

Currently, most of these countries are lacking interest in this initiative. Why is this? The 2014 events from Ukraine have changed the geopolitical outlook in the Eastern vicinity of the continent.

Ukraine proves to be a major headache for Brussels, as Moscow’s own agenda regarding this country’s future takes precedence over a supposed European agenda not backed by substance and willpower.

Belarus is significantly ensconced in the Russian defense architecture, as proven recently by the Zapad 2017 military exercise.

With slight exceptions, the EU borders have become effectively settled. At best, the Western Balkans and Moldova may join the bloc. For the major empires in history, the suspension of their territorial expansion has spelled the beginning of their end.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have reignited the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, while Armenia, the likeliest of the two to feature a European outlook, has joined the Eurasian Economic Community as a result of its relative isolation from the region’s economic dynamo (Turkey), the large Russian economic interests and the extensive Russian military presence at Gyumri. Geopolitically, Turkey, Russia and Iran have more interest in the future of these two nations than the EU or the US.

What remains of interest for the EU are Georgia and Moldova. Georgia may not make it too far for the time being, due to mounting Russian influence in the Caucasus, while the case for Moldova is marred by the ongoing Transdniestrian conflict and the general lack of interest that such a small country elicits. At the end of the day, Moldova looks to be the only likely candidate for EU accession for the next few years. Georgia may only expand economic ties and some judicial and police cooperation with Brussels.

The Western Balkans remain an interesting prospect. It is doubtful that Albania is a favorite for EU accession at least for now. Montenegro may be inching closer to the EU and Serbia is the likeliest candidate so far, after Croatian accession. 

Bang or whimper? 

The EU may definitely shrink before it enlarges and it is uncertain how such developments will affect its capacity for governance and its internal dynamics.

With slight exceptions, the EU borders have become effectively settled. At best, the Western Balkans and Moldova may join the bloc. For the major empires in history, the suspension of their territorial expansion has spelled the beginning of their end. Europe must now cope with its inner fractures and tribulations. But Europe is not alone on the global stage and competition is about to pick up.

However, miraculously, the EU enlargement process is not done yet. What about the “new” European nations: Catalonia, Venice, Scotland, Flanders, Lombardy? A larger Union within the same physical geography will complicate things or lead to additional conflict. The EU may definitely shrink before it enlarges and it is uncertain how such developments will affect its capacity for governance and its internal dynamics.

Beacon of hope
 
EU's current troubles are mainly due to domestic reasons, rather than external events. A new projection of the European intergovernmental model would be the way forward for the continental bloc.
 
Reshaping Europe based on the amount of ideologies, policies and emotions accumulated over the past two decades would not suffice in this regard. Leaders and policy-makers should look more in-depth into the current issues and trace their roots back to historical times.
 
There is always a decent amount of hope if their is still some decent goodwill left.
 
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