Europe Week: EU accession talks begin and Brussels defends sanctions
In North Macedonia and Albania this week, champagne corks popped – politically speaking.
The two Western Balkan countries have moved closer to their long-term goal of becoming members of the European Union, as the formal negotiation process has finally begun. Both candidates have been waiting for decades.
The reason accession talks are starting now is that some crucial legal hurdles may soon be cleared and, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pointed out, both countries have been working hard to comply with EU standards.
“You have shown resilience. You have maintained your faith in the membership process. You have strengthened the rule of law. You fought against corruption. You have free media. You have a vibrant civil society. You have made countless reforms. And you have modernized your economy,” von der Leyen said in Brussels on Tuesday.
But there is also another reason. When the EU granted candidate status to Ukraine a few weeks ago, it upended decades of its own enlargement diplomacy, so much so that pressure mounted not to leave the Balkan countries behind. , Albania and North Macedonia.
In other words, the war in Ukraine has, directly and indirectly, forged a stronger democratic identity in Europe and a sense that these like-minded countries must close ranks against an aggressive Russia.
Brussels responds to sanctions
Unsurprisingly, Brussels reiterated its continued support for Ukraine this week while considering further Russian sanctions.
At the same time, he strongly rejected the idea that it was EU sanctions that drove up energy prices and created misery for households and businesses, as explained by the head of bloc diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
“The price of oil started to rise a month before the war. It was caused by war. It has peaked since the beginning of the war. And since we passed sanctions, and since we banned oil exports from Russia, as you can see, the price of oil has gone down,” Borrell told reporters this week, demonstrating his point. with a graph of falling oil prices.
He also pointed out that the sanctions are indeed working and the Russian economy is collapsing.
But is this really the case? After all, there is a contentious debate among experts about the effectiveness of sanctions.
Stefan Lehne, a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe and a former senior EU official, told Euronews the measures had a significant impact on Moscow.
“Those who say that the EU suffers more from sanctions than Russia are simply wrong,” Lehne said. “Russian GDP is expected to fall by 11.4% in 2022, and the EU is expected to grow by another 2.7%.
“Also, inflation is very high in the EU, around 8%, but it’s twice as high in Russia. So I think there’s no doubt that the sanctions are having a big impact and that ‘they drive up the cost of war. seriously.’