In the 1990s, Central and Eastern European countries learned quickly that by combining their forces, they can be more successful in the Euro-Atlantic integration process. Perhaps, one of the most successful forms of informal regional cooperation was the Visegrad format. Regional cooperation remained an important practice in the post-accession period as well. But besides political representation, other aspects also became important. Projects, such as the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), have the potential to link all EU Member States in the Central and Eastern European region and focus on establishing common priorities in various fields. The most recent period clearly evidenced that having common regional objectives are not only important from business investment, or purely economic point of view. Projects related to energy security, transportation, and digitalisation became geopolitical matters. This is why it is so important for the region to preserve resilience against external as well as internal threats and challenges. We all know about the current challenges represented by external powers such as China, and Russia. These are not just threatening our democracies and economies, but also our geopolitical position.
Furthermore, because of the war in Ukraine, Russia is also challenging the security environment of the CEE countries. One of the main lessons that Central European nations could learn over the past three decades is that we cannot have security without strong democracy – and having strong democracies without security. Therefore, Ukraine, and here I would also mention Moldova, or even Georgia, need to become and stay strong economies and democracies. At the same time, the CEE countries must preserve their importance within the Transatlantic Alliance.
Opportunity: Integration and enlargement
Thus, probably the best way to support Ukraine’s democratic development is to integrate the country as much as we can, as much as it is possible into the European and Transatlantic structures. Just like the six Western Balkan countries, Ukraine and Moldova have the potential to become Member States of the European Union. They are in the Black Sea region, and they would and we also would benefit from better and closer integration. Closer cooperation would also bring the possibility of a more effective harmonization with EU and Transatlantic policies in various areas, including energy, connectivity, hard security, and also democratic consolidation and resilience. And going beyond politics, it is a common interest of our countries to complete the North-South connectivity, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and the Adriatic Sea. Based on the experience of the successful NATO enlargement rounds, the transatlantic alliance can play a more than important role in the stabilization of the Black Sea Region, and especially in countries like Ukraine, but also Moldova (frozen conflict in Transnistria), and Georgia (one-fifth of the internationally recognized territory of Georgia Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali, also known as South Ossetia is occupied by Russia). At the same time, the European Union and its Member States should overcome the problems represented by the enlargement fatigue and continue with the integration process of the candidate and potential candidate countries.
To achieve this, the CEE countries must be ready to support Ukraine (and as I mentioned before, Moldova, and potentially Georgia) on their accession path and share with them the experience they have. This requires on the one hand political commitment and leadership, as well as continuous cooperation between civil society organizations from both sides (CEE and future member states). We are in a situation where Europe is desperately looking for success stories. Maybe not just Europe, but the whole Transatlantic Alliance. At this stage, it would be hard to imagine any bigger success stories than contributing to the integration of Ukraine and all the other countries that have their place in the value based Euro-Atlantic international structures.
The Member States of the European Union should overcome the enlargement fatigue, continue the integration process of the Western Balkans, and start the process with Ukraine and Moldova
NATO has to keep up its open-door policy: it is the most attractive security provider alliance for European countries
NATO successfully managed to stabilize the Baltic and Adriatic Sea regions. Increased attention needs to be paid to the Black Sea Region
Central and Eastern European countries need to show political leadership and assist Ukraine so the country can become a strong democracy. Regular and honest exchanges are needed between the governments and the civil societies of Ukraine and the CEE countries.
Author: Andras Braun, Researcher in the Europeanization in the Balkans Ludovika Research Group
Joint statement following the 24th EU-Ukraine Summit – Consilium (europa.eu)