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Ukraine means enlargement is again the EU’s priority – but not for the reasons it claims


The European Union is using an old tool for a new purpose as it looks to its defence.

Enlargement is back. For the last decade or so, the European Union had made it clear that, while accession negotiations with several countries would continue, it did not expect any of them to actually join the bloc any time soon. 

After becoming European Commission president in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker said that no further enlargement would take place during his five-year term. Although his successor, Ursula von der Leyen, promised a ‘geopolitical’ Commission when she took over in 2019, she did not immediately signal a greater openness to enlargement.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 changed all that. Enlargement is now not just back on the EU’s agenda but has become its highest priority. 

At the Munich Security Conference last week, von der Leyen said, as she has before, that Ukraine and the Western Balkans ‘belong to the European family.’ Indeed European diplomats and think tankers are now frantically debating not just enlargement itself, but how to reform the EU to make it possible for it to ‘absorb’ several new member states.

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