Did Russian President Vladimir Putin believe that his war could prevent Ukraine from further rapprochement with the West? If so, he is likely to be disappointed by the developments of the past few weeks. Now it is even about EU accession.

Corruption at the highest level, deficiencies in the rule of law and serious economic problems: at the beginning of this year it seemed unthinkable that Ukraine could become a candidate for EU membership in the foreseeable future. Almost four months after the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against the Eastern European country, the world is now completely different.

In all likelihood, the EU Commission will make a recommendation this Friday that should bring joy and relief to Ukraine.

After weeks of analysis, President Ursula von der Leyen’s office will issue a statement on whether the country should be granted EU candidate status. The Council of the EU states commissioned them to do this in March.

According to information from the German Press Agency from the night, the authority, headed by Ursula von der Leyen, will probably advocate giving Ukraine the status of an EU accession candidate. At the same time, according to information from Commission circles, it should be made clear that further progress in the accession process should be linked to specific conditions. It is therefore about progress in the rule of law and in the fight against corruption.

Without this status nothing works on the way to the EU. It is a prerequisite for the accession negotiations to the club of currently 27 countries to begin at a later date. In addition, the status entitles to so-called pre-accession aid: money from the EU budget, which is intended to support the change in society, the legal system and the economy of the countries on the way to the EU.

No, the candidate status does not say anything about joining and is not linked to a timetable. Take Turkey as an example: The country has been a candidate for EU membership since 1999 – and has probably never been so far from membership as it is today. It is also relevant that every step towards rapprochement has to be decided unanimously by the EU states.

The so-called Copenhagen criteria, which were defined at an EU summit in the Danish capital in 1993, are particularly relevant. They include:

In addition, candidate countries must be able to apply the extremely complex and comprehensive EU law and ensure that it is effectively implemented by national administrations and judiciaries. The EU itself must also be able to absorb and integrate new countries.

That is extremely unlikely. The European Court of Auditors gave the country a devastating report last September. “Although Ukraine receives all kinds of support from the EU, oligarchs and interest groups continue to undermine the rule of law in Ukraine and endanger the country’s development,” a special report said at the time.

EU projects and EU aid have contributed to revising the Ukrainian constitution and a large number of laws. However, achievements are constantly being jeopardized and there are numerous attempts to circumvent legislation and water down reforms. The whole system of criminal investigation, prosecution and prosecution in high-level corruption cases is anything but stable.

The next week could already be crucial. On Thursday and Friday, the heads of state and government will come to the EU summit in Brussels and try to find a common position.

This is anything but certain. The positions of the member states have recently been far apart. States such as Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Ireland have been pushing for weeks to quickly make Ukraine an EU candidate. However, Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark are skeptical. One argument of the opponents of enlargement is that the EU, with its principle of unanimity in matters such as foreign and security policy, is already considered cumbersome. They first call for internal reforms before opening the door to new members.

In addition, there are countries like Austria that demand that Bosnia-Herzegovina must also be given candidate status if Ukraine gets it.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron announced support for Ukraine’s desire to become a candidate country during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday. “Germany is for a positive decision in favor of Ukraine,” said Scholz.

Besides Turkey, the countries Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are already candidates for membership. There are also Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo as so-called potential candidates. Shortly after Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova also applied in March. The EU Commission also intends to present its recommendation for these two countries today. Moldova should do as well as Ukraine. Georgia, on the other hand, must reckon with the fact that it will only be granted candidate status after certain conditions have been met.

A possible rapprochement with the EU has meanwhile gained paramount importance for the country at war. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy keeps declaring this a historic question. At the same time, he emphasizes that Ukraine is also defending the EU and its values ​​against Russia. The EU’s cold shoulder would probably also be a major setback for the morale of the fighting Ukrainians – and a stroke of luck for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Longtime commander of US troops in Europe, Ben Hodges, is convinced that Russia will launch one last major offensive in Ukraine in late summer. If the west of Ukraine supplies everything possible in terms of weapons, it can successfully defend itself, said the ex-general.

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