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Geopolitics of the European Rule of Law – Lessons from Ukraine and the Western Balkans

Article by Elise Bernard

Excerpt from the Article:

Against a backdrop of growing Sino-American rivalry, the pandemic crisis and the Russian war on Ukraine no longer leave Europeans any alternative: the European Union will be geopolitical (Arnoult and Gaudot, 2022). Otherwise, it would condemn itself to impotence, returning to the insignificance of the Cold War years: Post-Soviet studies are still ongoing and lead us to promote new ways of thinking about the future. However, the Union can only claim to be such a global player if it resumes both its enlargement process and its constituent process – regardless of the current reluctance of member states to do either. The rule of law, democratic accountability and control are part of the EU’s influence, attraction and legitimacy (Bernard, 2022). For their part, the candidate countries have mostly understood this requirement, and Ukraine (and the fact that President Zelensky recognises that it will be difficult) is one of the best examples of this.

At the same time, Russian aggression has rekindled a movement of solidarity in Europe that we thought we had lost. It also confirms for Ukraine its European destiny (Houeix, 2022), and its domino effect on Georgia and Moldova. Any real political community is based, first and foremost, on a shared sense of belonging. In this respect, the return of a large-scale war on the continent will have at least strengthened this feeling, with the influx of Ukrainian families and their fraternal and spontaneous welcome by the peoples of the EU. The increasing Europeanisation of our national political scenes is progressing, slowly but surely, and we can acknowledge the fact that the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU) has taken this issue in stride.

The FPEU closed on 30 June 2022 with a strong symbol: the recognition of the candidate status of Ukraine and Moldova to the European Union (EU) and, to a lesser ex- tent, with the vote to lift the Bulgarian veto on North Mac- edonia. Unfortunately, we are far from concluding that the next enlargement will be an enthusiastic one: The is- sues concerning the Western Balkans seem to be lead- ing to the status quo ante (Kolozova and Bernard, 2022). However, current events have triggered a refreshed inter- est in the EU’s enlargement goals and processes. Several opportunities arise for rule of law promoters: to re- claim the security discourse; to explain EU enlargement through the commitment to the rule of law; and consequently, to develop a strategy to influence opponents of enlargement.

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