In an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, while referring to the efforts made to add eight new members to the 27-member European Union, including the six countries of the Western Balkans, Ukraine, and Moldova, Farnaz Eskandari stated: Historically, the European Union, considers its expansion as a way to promote stability, democracy, and economic development in Europe and accepts the membership of countries that have been able to achieve specific criteria. However, the process of EU enlargement is complicated.
While explaining the factors that must be evaluated for the membership of the countries in the European Union, she said: In the past months, the officials of the countries and the European Union, while emphasizing the geopolitical importance of the expansion of the European Union to the countries of Western Balkans, Ukraine, and Moldova, have suggested that those countries gradually be accepted in some areas and specific political institutions of the European Union. They believe that the Western Balkans region, Ukraine, and Moldova share a common history and future with Europe, and the development of those regions remains the main priority of the European Union and acts as a strong tool to strengthen peace, security, and prosperity in the European continent.
The expert on European affairs, saying that the European Union has several reasons for accepting the Western Balkan countries, added: The Union believes that the acceptance of the Western Balkan countries while contributing to the stability and security of the region, can encourage and strengthen development of democratic values and the rule of law and human rights in those countries.
While pointing to the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on accelerating the expansion of the European Union, Eskandari referred to the German prime minister’s emphasis on the necessity of creating a “greater Europe” and reminded the development of the European Union to the countries of the Western Balkans opens new economic opportunities for both sides. Also, while guaranteeing the stability and European orientation of the Western Balkan countries, it can have geopolitical advantages and prevent the potential influence of other foreign players.
Saying that EU membership can facilitate deeper regional integration in the Western Balkans and lead to improved cooperation in issues such as infrastructure development, environmental protection, and security, she emphasized Brussels is trying to counter Russia’s influence strategy in the European region by focusing on the participation of the Balkan countries and Ukraine and prevent the advancement of strategies based on weakening the European Union.
The expert on European affairs stated that Russia’s attack on Ukraine had become a threat to the Balkan countries. In the past months, Russia has been trying to redefine its role in the Balkans and continued: In this situation, the expansion of the European Union is definitely not pleasing to Russia, and before this, Brussels also spoke about its information about Russia’s efforts to prevent some countries of this region from joining the European bloc.
Referring to the challenges of Western Balkan countries’ membership in the European Union for Turkey, Eskandari added: The EU’s relations with Turkey have been accompanied by important challenges preventing it from being accepted as a member state of the European Union. EU political officials announced that Turkey has a long way to go to join the EU, and completing its membership process is not easy; therefore, this accession is not a priority. Although the European Union has reservations about its relations with Turkey, it clearly declares its position regarding its accession.
According to the analyst of European affairs, one of the main issues that increase this complexity is the divergence in political values and practices. Europe insists that its concerns about Turkey’s commitment to democratic principles, including freedoms such as freedom of the press and the rule of law, have not been resolved yet, and those concerns have led to doubts in the European Union about Turkey’s alignment with European political norms.
She called the economic disparities between Turkey and the European Union member states another important challenge and added that the Turkish economy seriously needs to coordinate its economic policies with the Union and eliminate disparities, and achieving economic convergence is a complex and time-consuming matter.
Emphasizing the role of cultural and religious differences in the formation of the European Union’s position towards Turkey’s accession, the expert on European affairs said: Turkey’s predominantly Muslim population has raised concerns in some EU member states, and this has led to doubts about compatibility and adds cultural and religious aspects to both sides and at the same time, geopolitical considerations have made relations more complicated. Turkey’s strategic location at the intersection of Europe and Asia has advantages and challenges. The country’s involvement in regional conflicts such as the Syrian conflict and tension with neighboring countries has also affected the European Union’s and Turkey’s relations.
Eskandari referred to the long history of Turkey’s relations with the Western Balkan region and their historical, cultural, and religious ties and said: Turkey has been actively involved in the politics of the Western Balkans and supports regional stability and the possible integration of those countries into the European Union and NATO.
At the same time, she pointed out that the possible entry of Western Balkan countries into the European Union could have adverse effects on Turkey. Increasing competition with those countries to access EU resources, economic challenges due to changing trade preferences in the region, the risk of further distancing the EU from Turkey due to the stronger alignment of the Balkans with EU policies, reducing the ability to exert cultural and educational influence in that region, change in the geopolitics of the region and the possible reduction of Turkey’s role in shaping the future of the Western Balkans are among the possible effects of this accession.
Eskandari reminded: Of course, the real impact of this accession on Turkey depends on various factors, including the specific conditions of the accession of the Western Balkan countries, Turkey’s own relations with the European Union at that time, and geopolitical issues in the region.