Formally, the countries of the Eastern Partnership may, as European countries, apply for the EU membership. Some of them – Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, achieve similar – and sometimes even better – results compared to the Western Balkan countries with respect to such key EU enlargement criteria as democracy quality and corruption levels. Nevertheless, unlike the Western Balkans, the they are not perceived as potential EU candidates.
It is rather unlikely for the EU to change its mind in this matter. This restrained approach is driven by Russia’s explicit opposition to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the EP countries. Through its policy toward Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, Moscow has already shown that it is prepared to use military force to block their pro-European ambitions (frozen conflicts, proto-states). In the case of Ukraine, the greatest challenge to its accession, as perceived by many European elites and communities, is its demography (over 40 million citizens) combined with low levels of economic development (after Moldova, Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity) and high levels of corruption.
The relations between the EU and the Eastern Partnership will largely depend on Russia’s internal affairs. Its democratisation or substantial weakening may allow the EP countries to initiate their integration with the EU. However, for the time being this scenario is rather unlikely due to Russia’s weak civil society, economic crisis and strong position of its authorities. Even with its democratisation the sceptical attitude of the EU member states to its accession will not subdue. With its gigantic territory, large numbers of citizens and geographical location, the Russian Federation in its nature still resembles too much of a superpower.
This material is a part of the report “Enlarged in diversity: The EU enlargement process and its perspectives” prepared by the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation