Ukraine’s EU membership remains ‘many years away’

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Ukraine passed the first stages of the process of joining the European Union in record time. He applied for membership on February 28 and could receive formal acceptance of his candidacy as early as June 23-24, when the European Council meets to discuss a range of issues.

However, even if a decision is made to grant Ukraine official candidate status, the full membership process could drag on beyond the end of this decade.

“Steps that usually take months or even years have been completed in days and weeks,” said Pierre Morcos, visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Newsweek. “It is a signal from Brussels that it is ready to move relatively quickly, but the negotiation process will necessarily be long.”

Although Finland’s joining the bloc in 1995 took just under three years from application to membership, the same process for Croatia’s entry in 2013 took 10 years. Given Ukraine’s clear need to reform its judicial system and adopt legislation bringing the country into line with European standards, there is every reason to believe that full acceptance, which requires the approval unanimous support of the current 27 Member States, remains a medium-term prospect at best.

“At the moment, the main thing is to send a political signal to Kyiv,” Morcos said. “France and Germany want to use the prospect of membership as leverage to help Ukraine reform. And that is actually in Ukraine’s interest.”

European Council President Charles Michel (L) shares a moment with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a news conference following their talks in Kyiv on April 20, 2022.
Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Morcos sees gradual integration as the best way to ensure that Ukraine makes the necessary progress while maintaining a geopolitical orientation towards the West.

“For this reason, French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed the idea of ​​a European ‘political community’, which would foster cooperation between the EU and Ukraine on key issues alongside the accession negotiation process”, Morcos said. “The goal is to manage expectations while getting a head start on Kyiv’s integration into the bloc.”

While some politicians in Ukraine’s capital might be disappointed to learn that their country’s armed defense of European values ​​is not enough for immediate acceptance into the formal European club, Ukrainian analysts broadly agree with the findings. of Morcos.

“The process is even more important than the end result,” said Sergiy Sydorenko, editor of Kyiv-based outlet European Pravda. Newsweek. “Many MPs from Ukraine say the opposite, that first we have to have members and then we will make reforms, but it just doesn’t work that way.”

He noted that EU membership is extremely popular.

“There is almost a consensus in Ukrainian society in favor of EU membership,” Sydorenko said, “more than 90% in favor. This is even higher than in most current member states” .

He is convinced that Ukrainian society understands the reality of an interminable accession process and that it will continue to support European integration despite the waiting time.

“At the end of February and beginning of March, when a number of European leaders were saying that Ukraine’s accession should be accelerated, it created an unrealistic expectation in society,” Sydorenko said. “But Ukrainians now understand that the process is longer, and public polls show that many expect membership in five to ten years instead of a year or two. This change has not hurt the support of the public for membership, and I don’t expect it to create any kind of controversy in public opinion.”

While Ukraine’s EU bid is unlikely to serve as a cause of internal discord, it still harbors the potential to foster divisions within Europe itself.

“For eastern member states, the fate of Ukraine is a matter of their own security,” Dr. Kristi Raik, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, told Newsweek. “Among countries that have been under Russian rule or occupation in living memory, there is more of a sense of moral support for Ukraine.”

“In Western Europe,” she added, “it’s not an existential question.”

Raik sees the upcoming European Council summit as a key inflection point.

“If the body fails to take a positive decision in June for Ukraine,” she said, “I think it would be very demoralizing both in Ukraine and in the EU members who regard Ukraine’s membership as an essential geopolitical necessity”.

“Ukraine is a very special case,” Raik added. “We agree that he is fighting not only for his own freedom, but also for European values ​​and security.”

Despite the moral factors in favor of Ukraine’s eventual membership, she sees little point in speculating on timing.

“It’s really, really hard to predict,” Raik said. “It will take many years.”

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