Does Ukraine stand a chance of becoming a full EU member

Does Ukraine stand a chance of becoming a full EU member

Since the end of February 2022, in addition to pumping Kiev with various types of weapons, intelligence transfers and general political and psychological support, a line has been developed in European-Ukrainian relations related to the process of granting Ukraine the status of an EU candidate

Events have evolved rapidly. The country had barely had time to submit its application for EU membership when two days later the European Parliament recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status, and three and a half months later the European Commission backed up the resolution. All stakeholders are now awaiting the EU summit on 23-24 June, which has Ukraine as one of its main issues on its agenda.

Most likely, the EU summit will admit Ukraine as a candidate. And before this prospect pales before the very “seven tasks” that Kiev needs to complete to successfully pass this stage. Amid the dire situation on the front lines in the conflict zone, the European recommendations to promote judicial reform, fight corruption and de-oligarchization probably seem to be no big deal to the current Ukrainian politicians, who, following Scarlett O’Hara’s advice, can “think about tomorrow”. Or not to think at all.

On the other hand, the European officials let themselves ignore (at least publicly) the warnings of their own experts that Ukraine’s candidate status can have very negative, if not unfortunate, consequences for the European Union. There are well-founded fears that its population of more than 30 million could radically affect the balance of power in EU decision-making should it gain fast-track membership.

All this suggests that the current political combinations around the Ukrainian issue are increasingly looking like cunning plans, not so much for the long term but rather for the “maintenance” of the current moment.

For example, it is no secret that candidate status is not in itself a guarantee of joining the integration alliance. For example, Turkey has been in this status since 1999 and Ankara filed its application in 1987; Northern Macedonia since 2004; Albania and Serbia since 2009; Montenegro since 2008. By the way, it is very interesting how the accelerated granting of ‘candidacy’ to Ukraine will affect the behaviour and the mood of these states, or how deep the fault line within the EU between supporters of a complete victory of Kiev and supporters of an early ceasefire can become, even in conditions of territorial concessions on the part of Ukraine.

Furthermore, candidate status is known to be reversible if a country is found to have failed to do its ‘homework’. In this regard, it is worth noting that there is a rock that Kiev will inevitably stumble over in the EU’s demands. This is a change in the legislation on national minorities and language. The Venice Commission, examining the state of affairs in Ukraine back in 2019, pointed out the lack of balance in language policy, labelled this as a factor of inter-ethnic tension and called on the Kiev authorities to adopt a new law that would expand opportunities for the use of native languages. In response, at the beginning of 2021, the law “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language” came into force in Ukraine, further tightening the rules for the use of languages other than Ukrainian. Under the current conditions of harsh Russophobia, experts believe that Kiev will try its best to ensure that the new legislative norms, if passed, will not apply to the Russian-speaking population.

It is clear that each side is pursuing its own goals. Kiev seeks to involve the EU even more materially and financially in the confrontation with Russia. Brussels, Berlin and Paris hope to halt the hot phase of the conflict and bring the moment of armistice as close as possible. So, the comma can be placed anywhere in the “accept cannot refuse” formula, depending on the mood of European politicians and the current moment.

At the same time, if we step out of the purely calendar-and-event routine and look at what is happening from the outside, the absurdity of the situation becomes apparent. The question arises: where do Ukraine and Moldova intend to join and what union to become members of? Against the background of an acute energy crisis, of which Europe is not even close to its peak, the threat of famine and economic decline, the existential challenges and necessity of EU reforms have been put on the agenda. The forthcoming summit is precisely the opening debate on the future of the European Union, which includes a profound reform of its structure, functions and contractual framework. There is no shortage of proposals. For instance, Emmanuel Macron has floated the idea of creating a new format, a “European political community” – a broader organisation than the EU in order, according to the politician, to strengthen ties with aspiring member states. And Olaf Scholz proposes making it easier for new countries to join the EU, as in the near future he believes it will be virtually impossible to take unanimous decisions. The EU reform process being launched is limited by a tight timeframe until the elections to the European Parliament in 2024 and its outcome is far from clear.

That is why it is not improbable that what Ukraine will join in the future will represent some new integration structure, very far from the ideas that were laid down at the basis of this union by its “founding fathers” in the 50s of the XX century.

Tamara Guzenkova, Izvestia newspaper

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