Ukraine’s bid to move politically closer to the West may receive a boost today.
The European Commission is expected to offer its opinion that Ukraine should be considered a candidate state to join the European Union, meaning it will then be up to the 27 EU member states to decide whether or not they agree with the Commission’s opinion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky officially applied for the country to join the European Union on February 28, four days after Russia invaded the country.
He asked that the EU “urgently admit Ukraine using a new procedure … our goal is to be with all Europeans and, to be equal to them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure it is possible.”
On Thursday, Zelensky said Ukraine is ready to work to become a full EU member.
“We understand that that the path to the European Union is really a path and it is not one step,” he said. “But this path must begin, and we are ready to work so that our state is transformed into a full member of the European Union and Ukrainians have already earned the right to embark on this path.”
Speaking alongside him at a press conference in Kyiv, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Germany is in favor of a positive decision for Ukraine’s EU candidacy, and that Ukraine “belongs to the European family.”
Also on Thursday, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said “there is no time for hesitancy,” inviting the European Union to grant Ukraine candidacy status.
We are at a turning point in European history,” he said.
But while the early signs from some quarters are positive, Ukraine’s accession to the EU is far from a fait accompli.
For political and procedural reasons, it is possible that the EU ultimately decides that now is not the right time. And even if they did agree with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s opinion that Ukraine should be considered for membership, it could take years, even decades, for it to become a reality.
It is expected that the Commission will say that Ukraine’s accession will only start properly once the war is over and the country’s institutions are able to meet the criteria required to join the EU.
Known as the Copenhagen Criteria, these are fairly opaque requirements.
They focus on whether or not that country has a functioning free-market economy, if the country’s institutions are fit to uphold European values such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law and whether the country has a functioning, inclusive democracy.
Only then can work begin on the EU’s 35 chapters of negotiation, the final three of which return to some areas of the Copenhagen Criteria.
Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, which seems unlikely, it must then be ratified in the EU Parliament and by the legislative branches of each member state’s government.