Is the EU going to expand in the near future? What should Belarus, Ukraine and other countries do to collaborate more closely with the EU? During his last visit in Minsk, Günter Verheugen, former vice president of the European Commission, who recently visited Belarus, shared with us his thoughts on these issues.
Last week in the Belarusian capital the local Liberal Club organized a discussion on “The Present and Future of the European Union”. The conference room of the International Educational Center named after Johannes Rau was full – a good number of teachers, civil society leaders and businessmen came to listen to the former European commissioner and Vice President of the European Commission Günter Verheugen.
The questions of the highest interest to all that gathered in the Center were how the situation of EU is going to develop within the existing economic conditions and whether we should expect the Union’s expansion in the near future?
Mr. Verheugen demonstrated a rather optimistic view on the present development, referring to the dynamic progress one could recently observe in the EU. Referring to the expansion issue, he stated: “This issue is not on the agenda in 2013. Many representatives support the enlargement. Yet there are also enough opponents, who claim that the EU has so many problems which solution remains a priority, and only then the discussion whether we should expand or not can be renewed. We have certain commitments to the countries of the Balkan Peninsula, but there is no strong political will to support the expansion. Politicians, however, realize how important it is to preserve the principle of “open doors” – the EU is open to every European nation. To maintain this perspective, I believe that we need to increase a common market, to compete with India and China”.
Gunter Verheugen was pleasantly surprised by Belarus. Besides participation in the discussion, he gave a series of lectures.
“Obviously, Belarus is a European country, and Belarusians are Europeans. It will be very sorry if you do not overcome stagnation, which, in my view, just lasts too long”.
The professor noted that in Europe everyone knows how important the dialogue with Belarus is. “However, your government needs to take steps forward. Conditions for resuming the dialogue are clear – the political and economic liberalization and human rights. From my experience I can say that if a country makes positive changes, the EU always welcomes it – Stefan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, introduced the concept of more for more“.
Just as many times before during similar discussions, the question of the possible accession of Belarus to the EU was raised, even though both foreign and Belarusian experts understand that talking about is premature.
Günter Verheugen, when asked whether the EU had a clear action plan in relation to Belarus, said: “The EU has no clear strategy towards your country. Yet, we also do not have a strategy in relation to Russia, Ukraine, and even the United States and China. The point is that foreign policy does not imply integration now. The member states have to deal with these issues at their own level”.
The expert outlined the perspective directions of collaboration: “Energy policy is the most important issue for the EU economy and politics in the future. Belarus and Ukraine have resources and potential, making them very important countries to us”. He also pointed to Turkey as another state of high importance to the EU:
“EU accession prospect for Turkey and Ukraine is a very complicated issue. When I worked in the European Commission, EU member states really did not want me to make promises to Ukraine, a very complex and contradictory country. However, after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the attitude changed. The European Parliament published a very positive resolution, which welcomed the democratic changes in Ukraine, promised support and cooperation. However, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, who caused a lot of misunderstanding with their ambiguous statements, spoilt the relationship with the EU. Since then, the EU’s desire to cooperate has significantly decreased. However, I personally think it is wrong to accuse Ukraine of not giving a clear answer regarding accession to the EU. It clearly declared its intention to join the EU. Unfortunately, an association and free trade agreements are still not signed. The reason is known to all – political prisoners. The big mistake of Yanukovych is Tymoshenko staying in jail. The fact that her process was of political character remains clear to all. As a result, we have a very slow development of joint projects and the European integration of Ukraine in general. In my view, the possibility of Ukraine’s accession is a strategically correct decision, as we need this country within the EU. However, the position of those who have caused the crisis in the EU’s enlargement is still strong. Therefore, there is no political will to further enlargement of the European Union”.
Günter Verheugen: from 2004 to 2010 he was a vice-president of the European Commission and the European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry. In the Commission of Jose Manuel Barroso, formed in 2004, Verheugen held the posts of Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry and a vice-president of the European Commission. In 2010 he left the European Commission. Currently, he is the director of the Carl Friedrich Goerdeler-Kolleg.
Author: Adarja Gushtyn works in journalism since 2006. Collaborated with “Nasha Niva”, “Ezhednevnik”, “Turizm i Otdykh”, “Belsat” and others. Now works as a freelancer. In 2011, she graduated from the journalism faculty of BSU. She went for internship to Ukraine, Sweden, Germany and Poland. At the moment she pursues a law degree at BSU.
The original text can be found here (31 Jan 2013).
Translated by MA
Featured photo by churnosoff