By granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova and by recommitting to the EU membership of the Western Balkans, the European Union opened a new phase of its enlargement which will redesign the European political map again. It was undoubtedly the right decision to assert European sovereignty and also to welcome an embattled country which is showing with bravery that it belongs to the European future and not to a war of the past. A war of the past in Europe because it combines the clash of empires of WW I with the clash of political regimes of WW II. The future in Europe is being created by the values of freedom, equality, solidarity, democracy and sustainability and by a process of European integration which involves enlargement but also deepening. Deepening is a pre-condition for successful enlargement. But as enlargement has now become a political and moral imperative, the issue today is not about choosing between one or another. It is rather about how to make both with a new approach.
Wages should never leave workers and their families living in poverty. However, that has been the reality for one in ten workers in Europe. The EU minimum wage directive is a step in the right direction for fairer wages across Europe. Nonetheless, this directive is not an end in itself. More work needs to be done to maximise its potential benefit and ensure that wages are collectively bargained. Collective bargaining is a collective benefit: it means better outcomes for workers, the economy and society as a whole.
Characterised by unending transition and constant workforce migration, the economies of the Western Balkans could find balance and become sustainably competitive with green reforms and better attention to welfare and labour rights. Regional cooperation with a strong focus on EU integration could be the right drive for change.
In its new methodology of the accession process, the EU has defined the rule-of-law as one of its fundamentals simnce 2020, underlining its importance as a core European value. All countries of the Western Balkan, despite reform efforts in the past and present, are struggling with organised crime and corruption, clientelism in their institutions, a weak judiciary and low trust of citizens in the system. The poor condition of the rule of law undermines the public’s trust in the effectiveness of democracy. In the long run, this can have disastrous effects on the democratic consolidation in the Western Balkans.
The war in Ukraine has exposed different views on sanctions against Russia by Serbia, and the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, on the one side, and other Western Balkan states and entities on the other. The EU should handle the issue cautiously, to avoid further splits and to prevent securitisation of the issue.
When Vladimir Putin first invaded Ukraine in 2014, Europeans had a simple choice: increase or decrease their energy dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Europeans chose to increase. National governments like Spain and France could have freed themselves from Russian gas just by implementing their own national building renovation plans. But they chose not to.
The UK is no longer part of the European Union, but it is a critical player in the European gas market. As the EU seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, it relies on proximate non-EU states for access to an alternative gas supply, transport, and transit source. This requires cooperation, not competition or exclusion.
Last March, Spain and Portugal reached a historic agreement: for the first time ever, two European countries could set a price cap on gas for power generation, for a period of twelve months. A period to seek agreements was opened in both countries, which ended on 9 June, when the European Commission gave the final approval to the mechanism. This undoubtedly proves that the current European Union is very different to the European Union we were living in during the financial crisis of the last decade.
The EU Fit for 55 package is a comprehensive attempt to make the transition to a zero-carbon society in measurable incremental steps. It is a welcome development in terms of policy. And if fully implemented, it can be transformative.