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Foreign Affairs | Current position on EU enlargement

To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the current position in regard to European Union enlargement; the progress from the point of view of the applicant countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


Ireland has always been, and will remain, a strong supporter of enlargement of the European Union, provided that candidate countries meet the necessary conditions for membership. We recognise the value of enlargement as a transformative driver for stability and peace in candidate countries.

There are currently five recognised candidates for membership of the European Union: Turkey, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Serbia. Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina are recognised as potential candidates by the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina has formally submitted an application for membership, while Kosovo has a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, and has indicated an intention to submit a formal application for EU membership during 2022. Ukraine applied for membership of the EU on 28 February 2022, while Moldova and Georgia followed suit on 03 March.

Currently, EU relations with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are set within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. ‘Association Agreements’ and ‘Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements’ (DCFTAs) are in place with all three aimed at promoting deeper political ties, stronger economic links and ensuring respect for common values. While some progress has been made over the years towards closer integration with the EU, progress on reforms has been slow overall.

Ukraine’s application was discussed at the informal European Council meeting on 10 & 11 March 2022. This resulted in the ‘Versailles Declaration’, which acknowledged the “European aspirations and the European choice of Ukraine”. The European Council also invited the Commission to submit its opinion on all three applications in accordance with the established procedures, while noting that “Ukraine belongs to our European family”.

On 17 June 2022, the Commission presented its Opinions on the EU membership applications submitted by Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova as invited by the Council. The Opinions refer to three sets of criteria: political criteria, economic criteria and the ability of each country to assume the obligations of EU membership.

In essence, the Commission has recommended that candidate status now be granted to Ukraine and Moldova, on the understanding that reforms are carried out in a number of areas. It was also recommended that candidate status eventually be granted to Georgia, once a number of priority reforms have been addressed, with the Commission to review progress on all three applicants by the end of 2022.

I welcome the Opinions of the Commission in response to these three applications which align very much with our own public pronouncements and internal analysis over recent months. The Taoiseach has already made clear that Ireland wishes to see this week’s European Council grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status. Ireland further hopes that the positive signal given to Georgia by the Commission’s Opinion will spur its Government to implement reforms and reverse the democratic backsliding of recent years.

In the Western Balkans, current issues relating to the enlargement process largely revolve around the commitment to opening Inter-Governmental Conferences (IGCs) with Albania and North Macedonia. The main obstacle to agreement is Bulgaria’s continued objection to moving ahead with opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia due to bilateral difficulties related to the Macedonian language, the Bulgarian community in North Macedonia, and the implementation of the 2017 Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations. Despite strenuous efforts led by the French Presidency to resolve the dispute, it appears unlikely that Bulgaria will be in a position to lift its veto on the opening of accession negotiations with North Macedonia in the coming weeks which will undoubtedly represent a further setback for the Enlargement process.

The EU is continuing to encourage greater reform efforts on the part of Serbia and Montenegro, particularly in relation to Rule of Law and promotion of good governance. Serbia’s non-alignment with the EU common position relating to Russia has also been of concern recently.  

Ireland will continue to support strongly the enlargement process and offer any practical assistance it can to candidate countries engaged in accession negotiations to the EU.


Foreign Affairs

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