The European Union’s Enlargement Conundrum

Assessing EU Enlargement Policy and Policy Options for Ukraine and the United States

Membership in the European Union is critical for Ukraine’s reconstruction and future prosperity. A clear path to membership could serve as a catalyst for investment and growth given the European Union’s strong regulatory framework and history of economic integration. But the European Union is suffering from “enlargement fatigue” and has essentially slammed the door for new members. Incorporating Ukraine will likely also require the European Union to reform itself to enable greater decisionmaking flexibility, a new distribution of funds, and the ability to discipline member states for democratic backsliding and rule of law violations. 

This report examines the question of Ukraine’s EU accession and explains why enlargement, seen as the European Union’s most successful policy, has stalled. It explores past examples of EU enlargement and what lessons can be learned for both Ukraine and the European Union. It also examines what role, if any, the United States can play in Ukraine’s potential accession. EU enlargement is critical, not just to Ukraine but to the Balkans and European security, and is therefore of paramount importance to the United States. While enlargement will always be an internal EU process, this report argues there are diplomatic, economic, and military steps the United States can take to help encourage the process from a distance. 

This report is made possible by general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this report.

Max Bergmann
Director, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and Stuart Center
Otto Svendsen
Research Associate, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program
Sissy Martinez
Program Manager and Research Associate, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program