Ukraine becomes an official EU member candidate

Written by Javed Iqbal

EU leaders agreed on Thursday to make Ukraine an official candidate to join the bloc, which opened the door for possible membership in the coming years.

The decision was approved by EU leaders at summit in Brussels and fulfills one of the greatest wishes of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from European countries. It is also intended to send a resounding message of support for Kiev to the Kremlin.

EU leaders have also made Moldova – which borders Ukraine and where Russian troops are present in its secession region of Transnistria – an official candidate to join the bloc.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in the center, said the EU needs institutional reforms before it can take on new members.


Olivier Hoslet / Shutterstock

After EU leaders made the decision on Ukraine, Mr. Zelensky connected into the room to attend the meeting.

Mr. Zelensky told the leaders that their move was one of the most important decisions for Ukraine in the 30 years of the country’s independence.

“But,” he said, “I think this decision is not just for Ukraine. This is the biggest step towards strengthening Europe that could be taken right now … when the Russian war tests our ability to preserve freedom and unity. “

The decision on Ukraine and Moldova came after the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, last week recommended offering both countries so-called candidate status, an unthinkable prospect before 1 p.m. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Feb 24

Support from Germany, France and Italy for the move, announced when the leaders of these countries visited Kiev last weekultimately proved critical in removing the hesitation regarding a membership route for Ukraine and Moldova in the Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark and other Western European countries.

Nevertheless, the offer is only the first step in a long and uncertain admission offer for Ukraine and Moldova, which can take decades and has no guarantee of success. The Commission set a number of oversight tasks for both countries before any accession negotiations can begin.

The last country to join the bloc was Croatia in 2013, and the EU is unlikely to accept new members over the next few years.

Snake Island in the Black Sea is an important battleground in the Ukraine War. Satellite images show how Russian forces are using the island to strengthen their military capabilities and block ships carrying grain, while Moscow continues its advance in eastern Ukraine. Photo composed: Eve Hartley

Even the most optimistic of EU diplomats doubt that any real membership negotiations will begin before 2024. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French and Italian leaders have said the EU would need significant changes – and possibly a revision of its treaty rules – before it could absorb more new members. Past efforts to change the treaty rules have dragged on for years, derailed by no votes in referendums in various countries.

“We must enable the European Union to embrace new members,” Mr Scholz said on Wednesday in Germany’s parliament. “It requires institutional reforms. And we should use these reforms to promote democracy and to strengthen the rule of law in the EU as well. “

The EU declaration of confidence in Ukraine comes at a difficult time in the war against Russia, where Ukraine is in danger refrain from critical reason in the east of the country. Mr. Zelensky has said that an EU path would boost Ukrainian morale in the war, as well as open up the possibility of being anchored in Western institutions once the conflict is over. The opening of the country’s accession prospects will not provide any immediate further European assistance.

EU leaders approved the commission’s list of conditions that Ukraine must meet before the EU can open membership talks with Kiev. The list includes appointments to the Supreme Court and the country’s anti-corruption body, securing minority rights and enforcing an anti-oligarchy law.

The Commission set similar goals to fight corruption, improve judicial independence and crack down on organized crime for Moldova, which Russian officials have suggested could be a target for military action.

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia submitted EU membership bids in the first days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In early March, bloc leaders discussed it at a summit in Versailles, France, where only a few spoke in favor. Sir. However, Zelensky’s continued appeals for a membership path have gradually changed his mind.

The EU decided not to approve candidate status for Georgia due to opposition from the government to agreed domestic reforms.

“This is an important moment for the European continent,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo. Giving Ukraine candidate status “is a very significant symbolic message, but at the same time it does not mean that Ukraine will soon become a member of the EU. It is a process of many years.”

Once the accession negotiations are open, Ukraine and Moldova will have to implement a host of careful reforms, from strengthening the rule of law to tackling defunct state-run companies. It took Croatia five years to complete the accession negotiations and two more before joining.

Even as the EU paved the way for Ukraine and Moldova, the bloc demonstrated the continuing problems it faces in putting its long-term enlargement plans on track. Support for enlargement has waned in many Western European countries due to concerns about an influx of cheap labor and concerns that the bloc is becoming too large and unwieldy.

At a meeting on Friday morning with leaders from several countries in the Western Balkans, who have been seeking membership of the bloc for more than two decades, EU leaders once again managed to agree to open accession negotiations with northern Macedonia and Albania. Bulgaria has blocked negotiations due to historical differences with northern Macedonia. The former Yugoslav republic first received EU candidate status in 2005.

EU officials have acknowledged that the lack of progress in membership negotiations with the Balkan countries has jeopardized the credibility of the bloc and undermined the ability of the accession process to produce economic and political reforms in the candidate countries.

“Today we should start negotiations with Albania and northern Macedonia, and I can certainly not hide my disappointment,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Following the meeting, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama posted on Twitter a family photo of EU and Balkan leaders together.

“Nice place sweet people nice words nice pictures and just think how much nicer could be if nice promises were followed up by nice delivery,” he wrote over the picture.

Write to Laurence Norman at [email protected]

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Javed Iqbal

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