Why Ukraine’s bid for EU membership could take decades
youKraine’s bid to join the EU received a boost on Friday after the bloc’s executive arm recommended that the beleaguered country deserves to become a candidate for membership.
The European Commission (EC) approval sends a strong signal of solidarity with Ukraine following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s large-scale invasion of the country on February 24. The next step is for the leaders of the 27 EU member states to consider the recommendation at a meeting scheduled for June 23-24.
“Ukraine should be welcomed as a candidate country,” EC President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement on the decision. “It is on the condition that good work has been done but that there is still important work to be done. The whole process is merit-based, so it is within the rules and progress is entirely up to Ukraine. It is therefore Ukraine that has it in its hands.
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The decision comes a day after the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania became the latest of many world leaders to meet in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who announced it. described as a “truly historic” day. “Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow there will also be a lot of news for Ukraine, and I think it will be positive,” he said.
And given that Ukraine’s drift towards Europe and potential NATO membership is what sparked Putin’s aggression, the EC decision represents yet another goal for the autocrat.
“The thing Putin really needs to worry about is the EU, rather than NATO,” Robert Hunter, a former US ambassador to NATO, told TIME. “NATO will never attack anyone, but the EU creates a norm that makes Russia look stupid. What really worries Putin is contagion. Because he has seen that contagion is what led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when they tried to talk about opening up the Soviet economy, and people said, ‘why don’t we talk about something else, like freedom of talk ?’
Still, experts warn that the EC’s decision is only a temporary step on a path that could take years. Although Ukraine enjoys broad support within the EU, the country’s candidacy comes against a backdrop of growing Euroscepticism.
Accelerating EU membership would mean that Ukraine would get ahead of other candidates, mainly the Balkan countries, and so the bloc is walking a tightrope between showing solidarity with Kyiv without veering into favouritism. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is one of the leaders who has said Ukraine should not be given preference over Western Balkan states such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, although he has backed an “intermediate” membership for the country.
In Kyiv, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the “very demanding” process could take years as Ukraine needs to make progress on corruption and improving the rule of law. Moreover, undoing a slow approach by accelerating Ukraine’s accession risks widespread discord. The Eurozone sovereign debt crisis of 2010, the European migration crisis of 2015 and the Brexit referendum a year later reinforced the perception that the EU would be cautious about expansion. Besides Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova rushed to apply for EU membership in March and accepting all of their memberships risks drastically changing the bloc’s composition. On Friday, the EC also approved the candidate status of Georgia and Moldova.
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Starting accession talks requires the unanimous approval of all EU countries and this is a common historical baggage of sabotage plans. North Macedonia, for its part, achieved candidate status in 2005 although its progress has stalled – despite changing its official name from the Republic of Macedonia to appease Greece, which has opposed it. held from its own province of Macedonia – most recently because Bulgaria launched a last minute objection related to language and ethnicity.
Turkey, which has previously declared that it could block Finland’s and Sweden’s recent NATO membership applications, applied for EU membership in 1987, although it was granted EU status. candidate in 1999 and accession negotiations did not begin until 2005. However, the process is stalled due to myriad disputes between EU member states. “European negotiations with Turkey on accession have always been [rubbish], that would never happen,” says Hunter. “They put on [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] for a while until the Turks finally got [the message].”
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