Bad neighbours: With the Russian invasion in Ukraine and instability in the Balkans and Caucasus regions, the European Neighbourhood Policy has shown its limits, resulting in new accession applications. What steps should the EU take in order to stabilise its neighbouring regions and speed up the enlargement process?

Committee on Foreign Affairs

by Katarina Mazzini (SI)

Case study & introduction

Since the beginning of the armed conflict following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, relations between Russia and Ukraine have been worsening, erupting into invasion and war in the beginning of 2022. The war on the EU’s eastern border caused massive migrations, global inflation and gas shortages. Just a few days after the start of the invasion, Ukraine had already applied for the candidate status, which was officially approved in June 2022. Ukraine is now in a state of war and in need of humanitarian aid and military funding, and with them seeking EU shelter, other Eastern European countries (Moldova and Georgia) also afraid of Russian violence, want in too.
The European Union currently consists of 27 member states with 7 more officially recognised candidates. With Croatia being the last joined member in 2013 the rest of the former Yugoslav countries, Albania, Moldova, Turkey and Ukraine want to join as well. During the negotiation process many conflicts have arisen on the EU borders such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the conflicts between Serbia and Kosovo, and Azerbaijan and Armenia. With worsening diplomatic relations between these States and new accession applications, the EU has to find new ways to mediate the conflicts and accept new members by giving them protection.

Graph 1: Busting 10 myths about EU enlargement

Key problems

The more the EU has been expanding the more it has come in contact with unstable areas where conflict is actively happening or it is on the edge of erupting. These conflicts may not always present a direct security threat to the EU, however there is the potential for conflicts spillover, issues over human trafficking and organized crime, downfall of European economy and exacerbating poverty in Member States and bordering countries. The main instrument the Union has been using in problematic neighbouring countries has been the promise of EU membership, which is not applicable to many new neighbours. The accession process is long and complicated, sometimes lasting  decades. The countries stuck in the negotiations, especially in the Western Balkans are experiencing democratic stagnation, do not actively threaten EU values and are continuing to be pushed down the priority list. 

Another problem in the area is lack of motivation due to the extreme length of the process; moreover, Serbia keeps its historical and traditional ties with Russia which presents an easier ally than the West. However, the areas of Ukraine, the Western Balkans and the Caucasus have been on the radar of the international community since the 90s because of their common conflicts. 

The path for post-Communist Europe in many cases still is not written: because of their short democratic tradition, these countries are more prone than others to instability and autocratic regimes. The EU still presents a safe haven and promises to protect human rights and democratic values, which is why membership is an end goal for so many Eastern and Southeastern European States. 

1Conflict spillover: an instance of overflowing or spreading into another area.: “there has been a spillover into public schools of the ethos of private schools”.

Graph 2: EU’s acceptance to rising prices

Key stakeholders and measures in place

The European Commission promotes development of the economy and rule of law in candidate or want to become candidate countries. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was created in 2004 to promote stability, democracy, rule of law, human rights and economic development in EU’s neighbouring areas in the South and the East. These partner countries are mostly less developed than EU Member States and are seeking to one day be a part of the Union or more closely integrated with the EU. The ENP is divided into two main parts: The Eastern Partnership (EaP) and the ENP -South. It works by creating bilateral action plans drawn up between the EU and partner countries to establish political and economic reform agendas. Its goal is to help neighbouring areas develop into democratic and inclusive societies with economic integration. The EU supports the ENP with different tools such as financial support and technical cooperation. Another directorate responsible for the EU neighbourhood is the DG-NEAR which focuses on the eastern and southeastern neighbourhood, prioritising the importance of democracy and strengthening security and prosperity in the east and the Western Balkans. The Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) is a department of the European Commission and it serves to stabilise and prevent conflict, build peace and respond to crisis situations. It works globally but also focuses on the EU neighbouring regions trying to mediate conflict, take rapid responses, help with peace agreements and integrate victims back into society. 

The European Council establishes and supervises the EU enlargement process and the accession negotiations. Regarding enlargement politics the Council generally works by unanimous vote between all Member States. The Copenhagen Criteria are the rules that decide whether a candidate is eligible to join the EU or not. The political criteria demand a country respects democracy, rule of law, protects human rights and its minority groups. However this agenda has its flaws in the mechanism which is shown in the inability to prevent the rise of populism and nationalism across the continent. 

The EU mainly deals with conflict by imposing sanctions such as freezing assets, travel and transport bans, import bans, restricting media and propaganda and economically coercing the sanctioned country. For example, the EU has adopted several sanction packages against Russia and condemned them for the military attack on Ukraine, to which Russia is responding by suspending gas delivery to the Member States. Russia’s economy is collapsing, dealing with the toughest sanctions in history of international law; however the war in Ukraine and attacks on civilians are continuing. 

Another way of helping the suffering country is through military funding and humanitarian aid. Another important action is helping with the refugee crisis and supporting frontline countries that are dealing with the highest numbers of refugees. Besides active response, the international community also prosecutes and tries the people responsible for war crimes in the International Criminal Court. Being the so-called “last resort” the ICC is responsible for trying people who allegedly committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as aggravated attacks on civilians. This brings justice to the victims and penalises serious breaches of international law committed by specific individuals. However Russia is not under its jurisdiction and it has ties with the UN and not the EU.
Cooperation is another key step especially when it comes to the Western Balkans region. Since these countries lack political stability, economical resources and are historically still on the edge of dispute, integration presents a good motive. By giving out financial aid the EU is trying to stabilise the region and help it grow so it can reach the criteria and join the Union faster.


To make sure you understand the topic, think about the current main conflicts in the EU neighbourhood and prepare a short summary of where, how and why they are happening. 

After you have a good overview of that, think about the following questions and brainstorm possible arguments. Why do these states wish to become a part of the EU? How do the specifics of their conflict give them the (dis)advantage of joining? How can the EU help them join faster while still adhering to its criteria? Please prepare a text of 150-200 words and try finding some alternative sources that have not been yet given in this Topic Overview.