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Laure Delcour: the EU ‘at Crossroads’ Currently
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 14 Aug.'17 / 15:32

Laure Delcour, visiting professor at the College of Europe. Photo: Youtube screengrab

Civil.ge spoke about the European Union, the Eastern Partnership and Georgia’s membership aspiration to Dr. Laure Delcour, a researcher under the EU H-2020 project EU-STRAT (www.eu-strat.eu) and a visiting professor at the College of Europe.

Dr. Laure Delcour was previously a scientific coordinator of the EU-funded FP7 research project “Exploring the Security-Democracy Nexus in the Caucasus” (project CASCADE, FMSH, Paris). As part of a French-British research project (EUIMPACTEAST, ANR-ESRC, 2011-2014), she has investigated the EU’s influence on domestic change in four post-Soviet countries (Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine). She has lectured on EU institutions and decision-making, the European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Russia relations and Russia’s foreign policy (Sciences-Po Paris, Sciences-Po Strasbourg, INALCO Paris).

Her research interests focus on the diffusion and reception of EU norms and policies as part of the European Neighborhood Policy, as well as region-building processes in Eurasia. She has recently published The EU and Russia in their ‘Contested Neighborhood.’ Multiple External Influences, Policy Transfer and Domestic Change (Routledge, 2017)

The Georgian government and most of the country’s political elite maintain the position that Georgia’s final objective in its interactions with the EU is full membership. On March 27, Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze spoke about an action plan to accomplish this purpose and specified its key elements. The Ministry has also been pushing for a declaration statement in the upcoming EaP summit in Brussels. In your opinion, how realistic is this aspiration of Georgia?

The European aspirations of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine were acknowledged on several occasions, not least in the Association Agreements. But expressing aspirations and having them recognized, on the one hand, and getting an accession perspective, on the other hand, are two different things. The doors of the EU are not likely to be open anytime soon, even though this does not mean that they will remain closed forever.

The Government of Georgia identified six key areas for achieving the EU membership, including the implementation of the Association Agreement, integration with EU’s specialized agencies, participation in EU programs, dialogue on sectoral policy, defense and security policy and integration in the transport, energy and communication. From Georgia’s point of view, would you add anything to this action plan for more successful EU integration?

I think the first point is crucial, both for the Association agreement and the DCFTA. Most instruments used in the past relations between the EU and Eastern Partnership countries have not been fully implemented (for instance the PCA or even the ENP Action Plans). So it is important to have this AA/DCFTA properly implemented if Georgia wants to get closer to the EU.

The latest accession examples include both groups of countries joining the EU together, and the lone accession of Croatia in 2013. Do you think it is preferable for Georgia’s accession chances to work on it individually, or along with other potential candidates? And do you see the Eastern Partnership format playing any serious role in Georgia’s aspirations of EU membership?

I do not think individual or group accession makes a big difference. 

Regarding the Eastern Partnership, it offers important instruments, and Georgia (like Moldova and Ukraine) would need to make full use of them prior to thinking about membership. The implementation of the Association agreement and the DCFTA are long-term processes that require time before the full benefits can be reaped. Other instruments, like for instance mobility partnerships, need to be better exploited, including on the EU’s side. It does not make much sense to discuss the next steps if the current ones are not fully implemented, even though a longer time horizon (and therefore clearer perspectives on how to get closer to the EU) are also needed to anchor the reforms and make them sustainable.

What do you think is playing greater role in the European skepticism towards EU accession of Georgia and other former Soviet states - is it internal EU problems that make the Union’s enlargement appear unattractive, or the fear of Russia’s resistance to the process?

The fear of Russia’s resistance plays a very minimal role, if any. Regarding what you call “EU internal challenges,” I would even go further than that. The EU currently stands at crossroads. For the first time in EU history, a member state is leaving the Union; for the first time, we are also witnessing growing authoritarian trends in some member states. Some of the values that are at the very foundations of the EU integration process are openly questioned, such as solidarity, as is blatantly exposed by the so-called “refugee crisis.” So the EU has to decide for itself where it wants to go and what kind of integration it will seek before making any decision on further enlargements.

In your opinion, is credibility of both NATO and EU damaged by permitting Russia’s position play important role in defining accession chances of countries like Georgia?

The EU has made it clear that integration of post-Soviet countries as part of the Eastern Partnership is not targeted against anyone, yet obviously the Eastern Partnership has geopolitical implications because Russia regards it as a geopolitical project. However, (and regardless of Russia’s current policies to undermine further integration with the EU), accession chances will primarily be determined by two factors: 1) potential applicants’ readiness in terms of reforms, and 2) at least equally important (probably even more in light of the current EU challenges) the EU’s absorption capacity, which in turn depends on the EU’s ability to address internal challenges but also on the options that will be selected for the future of EU integration process. A multi-speed Europe, for instance, would make it easier to integrate new countries.

There has been considerable growth of the anti-EU sentiments within the Union. Most prominently, it is happening in France – a country which, along with Germany, is the core of the EU. Do you think that this tendency can endanger the very existence of the EU in its current form in the years ahead?

This is a very important development in the EU indeed. While different (and if fact opposite) responses were given in recent elections and referenda in both France and the United Kingdom in terms of EU integration, Euroscepticism is on the rise - in some other member states as well. This means that the EU should reconsider not only some of its policies, but also engage into a broader and deeper reflection about what kind of integration it wants to develop and for whom.

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