The Enlargement of the European Union: Decisions, Challenges, and Future Perspectives

The enlargement of the European Union (EU) plays a significant role in the political, economic, and cultural integration of Europe.
The delays and uncertainties in the negotiations for EU membership, particularly for countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, reflect the internal dynamics of the EU and changing conditions in international relations.
President Ursula von der Leyen has stated that despite the ongoing ethnic divisions in the Western Balkan country, the increasing influence of Russia and China in the region necessitates the executive arm of the EU to call on member states to commence negotiations with Sarajevo.


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The enlargement of the European Union (EU) plays a crucial role in the continent’s political, economic, and cultural integration. In pursuit of this goal, the EU seeks to incorporate neighboring countries into the integration process by granting them candidate or potential candidate status. However, in recent years, uncertainties and delays in the enlargement process, particularly concerning some countries in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, have been apparent.[1]

Delays and uncertainties in the negotiations for EU membership, particularly for countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, reflect the internal dynamics of the EU and changing conditions in international relations. For instance, in the negotiations for Ukraine’s EU membership, political divergences within the EU and tensions in relations with Russia can hinder the progress of negotiations.

The progress of the European Union (EU) in Ukraine’s accession process has been met with unexpected stagnation in recent times. Due to the impact of the European elections in June and subsequently the Hungarian Presidency of the European Council, the commencement of negotiations with Kiev has been postponed. This situation once again highlights the complexity and internal dynamics of the EU’s enlargement policy.

Although Ukraine’s candidacy process began on February 19, the European Union’s stance on Ukraine’s accession has been less active than anticipated. A figure known for being a former minister under Angela Merkel and standing by Ukraine has consistently supported Kiev, refraining from making promises that member states are not ready to fulfill. However, following Russia’s attack in 2022, Paris and Berlin adopted a more cautious approach and avoided hasty actions.[2]

Since Ukraine officially gained candidate status on February 21, 2024, it has been stated that the framework for negotiations, the next step towards joining the EU, will not be ready before the European elections. However, it has been indicated that this issue will remain on the agenda until March.

This decision must be unanimously approved by all 27 member states at an intergovernmental conference convened by the rotating presidency of the EU Council. However, Hungary assuming this role in the second half of the year creates uncertainty in Ukraine’s negotiations. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s frequent statements asserting that Ukraine has no place in Europe pose a hurdle to expediting the process.

Although it was not necessary to remove some freedoms from the EU treaties, all 27 member states, including those more reluctant to enlargement such as France, have acted uniformly. The granting of candidate status to Kiev, despite Ukraine not meeting the criteria, stems from the EU’s desire to send a strong political signal to both Kiev and Moscow.

On the other hand, the role and influence of countries like Georgia and Hungary in the EU membership process are also subject to debate. Particularly, Hungary’s stance on EU enlargement and its obstructive role in Ukraine’s membership process highlight the challenges of the EU’s enlargement policy.

In December 2023, EU leaders decided to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, while the proposal to start negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina was brought up. However, the failure to initiate negotiations and the slow progress are influenced by various factors. As of March 2024, negotiations have still not begun. At this point, the European Parliament is hesitant to expedite this process, especially with Kiev, before the June elections.Formun Üstü

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On the other hand, the European Commission is preparing to propose the start of accession negotiations between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina. President Ursula von der Leyen has indicated that the executive arm of the EU will call on member states to commence negotiations with Sarajevo, despite ongoing ethnic divisions in the Western Balkan country, due to the increasing influence of Russia and China in the region. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and steps taken to counter Moscow and Beijing’s influence are pressuring EU officials to expedite the process. [3]

Von der Leyen, their intent to expedite the process with the following statement: [4]

We have realised that it is not enough to just wait for the Western Balkans to move closer to us. It is not enough to say that the door is open. We must also take responsibility, and support their path towards our union in any possible way”

It is expected that EU leaders will discuss the recommendation at the summit in Brussels next week. The pro-Russian separatist Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, has continued to weaken the presidency and other political functions in the country, so it is not certain that other member states will approve the negotiation process.

The biggest supporters of Bosnia within the EU (Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Slovenia) aim to approve Sarajevo by potentially using their vetoes to prevent Bosnia’s candidacy from being rejected, as was the case with Ukraine and Moldova. However, many officials from both within the EU and among EU member states believe that Bosnia deserves to join the EU even less than the two Eastern European countries.

EU leaders have requested a European Commission report on Bosnia’s progress by the end of March. They will reconvene for a summit in Brussels on March 21-22, 2024. However, there are opinions suggesting that Germany and France prefer the EU not to focus on enlargement but rather on the arming of Ukraine.

Bosnia was granted candidate status for the EU in 2022. To join the bloc, countries must undergo a lengthy process where they harmonize laws and standards and demonstrate that their institutions and economies meet democratic norms.[5] Von der Leyen has acknowledged that Bosnia needs “further progress,” but she has emphasized that the country has taken “impressive steps.”[6]

“More progress has been achieved in just over a year than in over a decade. First, Bosnia and Herzegovina is now fully aligned with our foreign and security policy, which is crucial in these times of geopolitical turmoil. The country is showing that it can deliver on the membership criteria, and on its citizens’ aspiration to be part of our family. The message coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina is clear. So our message must be clear too. The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies in our union.”

Looking ahead, the EU’s enlargement policy will continue to be a significant topic of discussion and negotiation. Particularly, political differences within the EU’s internal structure, dynamics in international relations, and progress in candidate countries’ reform processes will all influence the course of the EU enlargement process.

[1] “The Future of EU Enlargement”, Open Access Government,, (Date of Access: 12.03.2024).

[2] “EU Accession Negotiations: Ukraine Can Wait”, Le Monde,, (Date of Access: 12.03.2024).

[3] “EU Commission to Recommend Accession Talks with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Bosnia”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,, (Date of Access: 12.03.2024).

[4] European Commission to Recommend EU Accession Talks with Bosnia”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Access: 12.03.2024).

[5]  Ibıd.

[6] “Commission Proposes to Open EU Accession Negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Updates Progress Made”, European Commission,, (Date of Access: 12.03.2024).

Hazal KÖSE
Hazal KÖSE
2023 yılında Hacettepe Üniversitesi Fransız Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Ayrıca İngiliz Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümü'nde yandal yapmış ve çeşitli kamu kuruluşlarında staj deneyimleri kazanmıştır. İleri düzeyde İngilizce ve Fransızca bilmektedir.

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