EXPLANATOR: Why Ukraine’s membership application is a big test for the EU

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BRUSSELS — Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union could advance on Friday with a recommendation from the EU executive that the war-torn country deserves to become a candidate for membership in the 27-nation bloc.

The European Commission’s endorsement, while only a tentative step on a path that could take decades, would send a strong symbol of solidarity with Ukraine and further test the EU‘s united front against the Russia in the midst of her neighbour’s invasion.

Here is a glimpse of what the Commission’s announcement on Ukraine’s EU candidacy could mean for the region:

FIND THE RIGHT BALANCE

Ukraine applied for EU membership less than a week after Russia invaded the country and as the capital, Kyiv, was threatened with capture and the fall of the Ukrainian government.

The urgency created by the war and Ukraine’s demand for accelerated review could upset the bloc’s slow approach to enlargement.

On Thursday, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited Ukraine and pledged their support for Kyiv’s bid to become an official candidate. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Ukraine’s EU bid “not very deep” and noted that Ukraine would overtake Balkan nations if status is granted. But Draghi said the situation in Ukraine was “extraordinary”.

Giving Ukraine candidate status would challenge the normal EU playbook for adding members. Leaders of EU member countries are expected to consider the European Commission‘s recommendation next week.

The leaders face a delicate balancing act: signaling to Ukraine that the door to the EU is ajar while assuring other aspiring members and some citizens of the bloc that they are not showing favoritism to Kyiv .

TO ENLARGE OR NOT TO ENLARGE?

The European Union was born in the 1950s to prevent a new war between Germany and France. The six founding members were Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Since then, the EU has continued to grow while espousing the idea that economic and political integration between nations is the best way to promote general prosperity and peace. This approach paved the way for the creation of the euro in 1999 and the accession in 2004 of 10 new member countries, most of them from the former communist Eastern Europe.

The euro, which 11 countries initially adopted as their official currency, underscored the EU’s ability to deepen economic and political integration among EU nations. The “big bang” enlargement five years later showed the bloc’s ability to expand its reach.

As Europe’s biggest military conflict since World War II unfolds on the bloc’s eastern border, the EU is once again grappling with lingering questions about its ability to deepen and widen, the informal references used by the experts to follow the evolution of the block over several decades.

WHY IS THERE A LACK OF CONSENSUS?

The internal consensus underlying such a two-track approach to EU progress had weakened years before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The eurozone debt crisis that erupted in 2010, a wave of mass migration in 2015 and Britain’s shock 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU all contributed to the EU’s reluctance to expand its ranks. .

So has the growth of Eurosceptic political forces in many member countries, including Germany, France and Italy. Some EU countries have accused governments in Berlin, Paris and Rome of showing insufficient political support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia.

The Thursday visit to Kyiv by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis could help counter such criticism.

CANDIDATE STATUS

The leaders’ meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and expressions of support for Ukraine coincided with the European Commission’s behind-the-scenes negotiations on the upcoming opinion on whether Ukraine deserves candidate status .

A group of EU countries, including Poland, want maximum support for Ukraine, while others, such as the Netherlands, prefer a more cautious stance.

The commission also plans to publish its recommendations for Georgia and Moldova, which both rushed to apply for EU membership in March.

The extent to which Ukraine’s accelerated membership application represents a change in standard EU operating procedure is clear from the experiences of other candidate members.

Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999 and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for effective membership. Only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed in the ensuing years, and the whole process has stalled due to various disputes between the EU and Turkey.

WESTERN BALKANS TIRED OF WAITING

Six Western Balkan nations also faced long waits on their journey to EU membership. North Macedonia, for example, applied in 2004 and was granted candidate status the following year.

But even after changing its name later to settle a long-running dispute with EU member Greece, the country is still awaiting the start of membership talks as fellow member Bulgaria has thrown a stumbling block last minute related to ethnicity and language.

The launch of accession negotiations requires the unanimous approval of the 27 EU countries

Another aspiring member in the Balkans is Serbia, which applied for EU membership in 2009, became a candidate in 2012 and started membership talks in 2014. So far, the country has not completed only two of the 35 negotiating chapters.

In this context, Ukraine is essentially asking the EU to abandon its more cautious than sorry enlargement strategy.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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