What speaks for Ukraine’s EU membership and what speaks against it? Beyond the pros and cons, one thing is certain: it won’t come quickly. The EU itself would also have to reform itself for this.
For the Ukraine expert Viola von Cramon, MEP for the Greens, the case is clear: “There is hardly a more European state than Ukraine.” The will of its citizens to finally become a member of the EU is “extremely strong in the current struggle for survival “. This is “very well understandable”, said von Cramon FOCUS Online, because no other country had “bled so much in the defense of EU values” in recent years.
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But even the Green Party, which has been on the side of Ukraine’s move to Europe for more than two decades, has to concede: “However, for the overall structure in Europe, we must also keep an eye on the states that are in the Western Balkans and which were already in 2003 it was promised that – after meeting certain criteria – they would be granted candidate status.” However, this process is currently blocked. If Ukraine were to be awarded the contract before this problem was resolved, “we may face the next conflict in the EU’s own ‘courtyard’.”
This warning from the green European politician corresponds to the German government’s conviction that preferential treatment for Ukraine harbors the risk of alienating other states hoping for membership of the EU. This includes not only the Western Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, but also Georgia and Moldova. And of course Turkey, which has been negotiating accession with the EU for two decades.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz ruled out “short cuts” for Ukraine in a government statement on the forthcoming EU summit. However, the leader of the opposition in the Bundestag, CDU leader Friedrich Merz, recommended that the EU heads of state and government grant the country candidate status at their meeting in Brussels next week. This coincides with the position of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Immediately after the Chancellor’s government statement, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba increased the moral pressure. On Twitter, he lamented the strategic fickleness of “some EU capitals” with regard to his country’s European perspective – apparently aimed at Berlin. This ambivalence encouraged Putin. Ukraine does not need a substitute for candidate status, which treats it as second-rate and hurts the feelings of its citizens. In doing so, Kuleba is likely also referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s considerations about a kind of “light” EU membership, a “European political community” for states like Ukraine, which are far from meeting all the requirements for entry into the Union.
Even optimistic forecasts do not consider Ukraine’s wish to join to be achievable before 2030. In an analysis by Barara Lippert, EU enlargement expert at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), judges Barara Lippert, EU enlargement expert at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), that it is easy to estimate ten to twenty years from the application for admission to accession for countries that are “significantly behind” in relation to the requirements of the EU.
These considerable arrears can be safely assumed in the case of Ukraine, as well as other problems.
On top of that, the EU is tired of enlargement. Even Romania and Bulgaria, the newcomers from 2007, were hardly ready for accession when viewed critically. The last successful accession candidate to date was Croatia in 2013. Not all EU states unreservedly support Ukraine’s membership, which they would have to decide unanimously. The Dutch, for example, had to be forced to agree to the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement with the explanation that this agreement would not automatically result in a candidacy for accession.
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However, candidate status in no way means that accession negotiations must start immediately. According to the current status, according to a fundamental decision by the European Council, EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, a confidant of Viktor Orban, would be responsible for the technical start of the negotiations. Even if Orban were to let go of candidate status for Ukraine in the circle of heads of state and government – presumably after squeezing out tangible benefits for his country – he could always put obstacles in the way of the negotiation process via his ombudsman in Brussels.
In a joint discussion paper, the European policy think tanks European Policy Center and EGMONT advocate first exhausting and further developing the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine, since the hurdles to full membership would remain for years to come. It remains – also in view of the damage caused by the war – the “most appropriate framework for EU-Ukraine relations”.
The signing of this agreement followed the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2014, which put Ukraine on a pro-European course. The aim is to increasingly integrate the country into the EU internal market. Ukraine already conducts 40 percent of its trade volume with the EU. Your electricity grid is connected to that of the EU.
The Green MEP von Cramon proposes, parallel to the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine and tough sanctions against Russia, first to invite the western Balkan states to accession talks “and then to lead Ukraine into the EU via an international reconstruction plan based on the necessary reforms in the rule of law and democracy “. Everything else harbors “too much political explosive power for the entire development in the EU and its partners”.
Since the Russian invasion, the EU has already provided significant support to Ukraine. Including military aid, it has so far amounted to more than 5.5 billion euros. The amount of credit that Brussels is granting to Kyiv is expected to reach up to nine billion euros this year. For the reconstruction of the country after the end of the war – which is of course not yet foreseeable – the establishment of a special fund is planned, the grants and loans to Ukraine of which are to be fed both from the current EU budget and from contributions from the member states.
The support is said to be linked to the country’s progress in establishing an EU-compatible rule of law and in the fight against corruption. Added to this are the considerable expenses for taking in and caring for Ukrainian refugees in the EU countries.
Even if EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen never tires of assuring Ukraine that Brussels is “unwaveringly” at her side; an EU summit in Versailles in March declared the struggling country to be part of the “European family”: All these commitments fall far short of expectations in Kyiv, which has anchored EU membership in the constitution as a state goal.
It’s not just Ukraine that would need to change in order to join the EU. SWP expert Lippert argues that the Union itself should also first prepare itself for membership. There is much to suggest “that the EU should only accept further countries if it has reformed its institutions and decision-making processes beforehand”. That too can take a long time. So long that Lippert also worries in the event of a total Russian victory in Ukraine: “The EU might then be faced with the question of whether and to what extent it can cooperate with a Ukrainian government in exile.”