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European integration: is it still the dream it once was?

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Is EU integration still a priority for states, or have we in fact hit 'peak accession'? Announcing a new joint project between Can Europe Make it? and oDR.

Daniel Kennedy Alex Sakalis
19 March 2015
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Demotix/Roman Pilipey. All rights reserved.The European Union has been characterised by deep internal divisions, economic crises, and structural problems for the last decade. Against this background, it’s easy to forget that - officially - the EU seeks greater integration with its post-Soviet neighbours and even sees many states of the Western Balkans becoming full-fledged members in the near future.

Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine’s descent into crisis and conflict in the last year have served as reminders that Brussels can’t simply conduct its foreign policy on autopilot. Ukraine and Armenia’s last minute decisions to backtrack on an Association Agreement in November 2013 demonstrate that the EU’s attractiveness has been diminished in recent years.

Conversely Russia has become increasingly confident protecting what it perceives as its interests in its neighbourhood. Russia is actively pushing an alternative, Moscow-led trade and political bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, to which Belarus and Armenia are already party.

EU members like the UK have also reacted ambivalently to the continued expansion of the EU to include Eastern European states like Bulgaria and Romania, putting the EU’s appetite for further integration and expansion into question.  Given these issues, European integration has paradoxically become much more important as it becomes more politically difficult.

In this series oDR and CEMI look at six states nominally committed to European integration. Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia – all post-Soviet states whose elites favour European integration – and Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia, three states in the Western Balkans granted candidate status in the last decade.

Have the EU’s internal problems decreased its attractiveness among the populations of these countries? Has the EU’s willingness to overlook the fault of governments that profess integration discredited it? And are the benefits of integration really as profound as its proponents claim, particularly for the poorest members of society?

We kick off our series looking at two states - Georgia and Montenegro - whose nominal committment to EU integration hides a capricious tension within the states themselves.

We will be updating our EU integration page every few days with another country profile as we continue to ask whether EU integration is still a priority for states, or whether we have in fact hit 'peak accession'.

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