Why Ukraine’s membership in the European Union is not easy

Ukraine has asked to join the EU, but the process is likely to take some time, and it is unclear whether there is widespread support for admitting several new nations to the bloc.

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The European Union may be on track to support Ukraine’s newest membership, but the process will not be easy: not only is the country still at war, but several other nations want to join – and this is well known. time.

Just days after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of the country, Ukraine sent a letter to the EU to formally begin the application process.

Since then, several EU officials have come out in support of Ukraine’s accession to the bloc, but they have also made it clear that this will be a long process, even if they try to speed things up given the circumstances in Ukraine.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive unit, will issue an opinion on Ukraine’s accession to the EU on Friday, but it is likely to mark the beginning of a long and difficult journey.

Even European Parliament President Roberta Mezzola acknowledged that admitting new members to the EU could be a challenge.

“Enlargement is always complicated – you have different countries, different paths, different steps to take, different rules to follow. But this is the moment when we need to send the strongest political message: Ukraine belongs to the European family.” she told CNBC last month.

According to Daniel Gross of the Brussels-based CEPS think tank, gaining political support for EU accession is a “moral impetus for Ukraine and a signal to Russia that the EU will not be deterred.”

But for the EU, support for Ukraine’s bid is a delicate balance that affects many countries.

What about the others?

The nations of the Western Balkans have long been promised accession, for example – including Northern Macedonia, which even changed its name in a bid to increase its chances of joining the EU – but negotiations have not yet begun.

Moldova, which borders Ukraine, and Georgia, which borders Russia, also wanted to join the bloc after the Russian invasion.

The European Commission will also issue opinions on Friday on the accession of Moldova and Georgia to the bloc.

“Especially against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, we must remain vigilant and give the same priority to the Western Balkans as to Ukraine,” Austrian Ministers Alexander Schalenberg and Carolyn Edstadler said in a letter to EU senior diplomat Josep Borrell late last year. month.

“We can’t afford to create first-class and second-class candidates.”

The Western Balkans is a term used to refer to six countries in southern and eastern Europe: the Republic of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the Republic of Serbia.

The risk to the EU is that it is believed to be giving preferential treatment to Kyiv, which is upsetting other parts of the continent and potentially bringing them closer to Russia.

“We want and need these countries, firmly anchored in our camp, the European model of life, we must demonstrate to say that they are key partners and that we are serious about their European future,” the Austrian ministers said in a letter. .

Even after publishing its opinion on Ukraine’s accession to the bloc, it will probably be years before Member States are given the opportunity to approve Kyiv’s accession, largely because Ukraine will have to implement several economic and political reforms to to comply with European rules.

However, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine belongs to the EU. Last month, she advocated for financial assistance for reconstruction as a way to help Ukraine join the bloc.

“He could set a system of main stages and goals to ensure that European money is really delivered to the people of Ukraine and spent in accordance with EU rules. This could help fight corruption, bring the legal environment in line with European standards and radically upgrade Ukraine’s production capacity, she told the European Parliament, adding that it would ultimately pave the way for Ukraine’s future in the European Union. .

‘Very hard’

But political experts believe that Ukraine’s full membership is a long way off.

Although Ukraine’s recent accession to the EU is unlikely, there is a clear shift in enlargement attitudes among EU leaders, who have realized that retaining countries that want to become members is very disappointing and opens the door to democratic retreat. outside the EU. influence from Russia, from China, “said Anna Rosenberg, a partner at consulting firm Signum Global.

“So, yes, EU leaders are a little more open to enlargement now than they were before the war, but it’s still very difficult – problems with countries like Hungary are proof of that. No EU leader wants to allow a second Hungary into block. ” she added.

Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, has long been a thorn in the side of the European institutions.

This has been evident recently in the decision to impose an oil embargo on Russia. The European Commission made the proposal in early May, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán led a coalition of a handful of countries in secession talks. This took much longer than originally expected.

“The EU-27 is often unmanageable and I think it is difficult to see new members being admitted to the club without revisions to the Treaty of the kind that [French President Emmanuel] Macron has proposed greater qualified majority voting and more fiscal integration, “said Jacob Kierkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in an email.

At present – and as the recent stalemate over the Russian oil embargo has shown – key foreign policy decisions require unanimity.

These are already difficult times, given that the EU is made up of 27 countries with often completely different internal priorities. And it can get even harder if the group expands.

Another complication is the fact that it is currently unclear when Russia’s war in Ukraine will end.

“The precondition for a meaningful accession process is not only for Ukraine to win the war in the sense that it needs control over its own territory, but also for a genuine peace agreement with Russia,” Kierkegaard said, adding that there was no frozen conflict. to give Ukraine EU membership. “

“The question, of course, is how to achieve this, given that, in a sense, Moscow has a veto over Ukraine’s possible accession to the EU – without a peace agreement, without EU membership in the end.

Correction: A quote taken from a letter sent by Austrian ministers Alexander Schalenberg and Carolyn Edstadler has been updated to correct a spelling mistake.

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