“Stabilizing the European Continent: Reflections on the Future of EU Enlargement”, Jean De Ruyt (Egmont, Belgium)

Since the decision to accept Croatia as a candidate member in 2011, the debate in the European Union about its enlargement has been rather subdued. But in 2022, after the bloody invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, the new European security architecture that the EU (and NATO) tried to build after the end of the cold war has been profoundly shaken.

We thought we could manage our ambiguous relationship with Russia and the European members of the ex-Soviet Union through dialogue and economic partnerships. We underestimated the urgency of stabilizing the Western Balkans through EU accession. After membership was offered to Croatia, gestures have been made – more bureaucratic than political – to negotiate the accession of other Western Balkan countries. But ‘enlargement fatigue’ fast developed – ignoring the fact that Russia and China were growing as non-democratic competitors and that Turkey was drifting out of the Western values system.

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