EU leaders expected to endorse candidate status for Ukraine

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BRUSSELS (AP) — EU leaders meeting Thursday are expected to grant Ukraine candidate status, a symbolic victory for Kyiv amid war with Russia and another sign of how the conflict is transforming the world order. .

Candidate status does not confer membership, which could still be decades away. Since all 27 members must agree to the measure, surprise objections are still possible. But Ukrainian and EU diplomats believe Thursday will mark a historic step for the bloc and send an important signal to Russia.

Heads of state and government meeting in Brussels for a two-day European Council summit will back the candidacy of Ukraine and Moldova, but will ask both countries to meet certain conditions before accession talks begin, according to draft proposals. conclusions of advice obtained by The Washington. Mail. The European Parliament voted Thursday in favor of the measure.

EU leaders are also expected to support Georgia’s bid, but only after conditions are met, according to the draft conclusions.

Russia falsely claims that Ukraine is not a real country and wants to bring it into Russia’s sphere of influence by force. A path to European Union membership sends the message that Ukraine is a very real country with a future of its choosing, said Vsevolod Chentsov, head of Ukraine’s mission to the EU.

For Ukrainians exhausted by months of fighting, EU candidate status is a “gesture of confidence,” Chentsov said, and a sign that “the EU believes that Ukraine can do this.”

Just a few months ago, the idea of ​​candidate status for Ukraine was considered almost impossible.

Ukraine has long wanted to join the EU Days after the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky advocated an accelerated path to membership, seeing candidacy as a matter of survival. While the Baltic states and other Eastern European countries supported the idea, many member states rejected it.

During the first months of the war, EU officials and some leaders talked about Ukraine’s “European future”, but in private conversations, many EU diplomats were skeptical, saying it was unfair to make false promises, putting questioning Ukraine’s readiness and asking why Ukraine should jump the EU line. The Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal were among those who resisted.

During the spring, some leaders seemed happy to pose with Zelensky, but doubtful about the Ukrainian candidacy. “None of the 27 would say ‘no’ directly to the president’s face, but what is happening behind the scenes is a clear will to put obstacles in the way,” said Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. from Ukraine, she told The Post on a visit to Brussels on June 9.

Zelensky pressed EU leaders to do more. Granting candidate status to Ukraine “would show that words about the Ukrainian people’s longing to be part of the European family are not just words,” he said in a June 10 speech. The next day, von der Leyen paid a surprise visit to Kyiv to finalize the commission’s assessment of the candidacy.

As von der Leyen continued to tout Ukraine’s readiness, Ukrainian diplomats toured European capitals to keep up the pressure. Some holdouts began to play down their earlier skepticism, wary of being the last to stand in Ukraine’s way.

Last week, the leaders of Germany, France and Italy visited Kyiv and expressed their support for Ukraine’s candidacy. The next day, the European Commission recommended candidate status for Ukraine, adding to the momentum. Earlier this week, EU diplomats called Ukraine’s bid a “done deal” ahead of the summit.

But the same diplomats warn that there is a very long road ahead. The European Commission last week laid out six post-bid steps for Ukraine to meet before it can move forward. Among them: implementing laws to ensure the selection of qualified judges; limit the influence of the oligarchs; and improving its record of corruption investigations, prosecutions and convictions.

With the fighting in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials acknowledge that it will be difficult to continue. “Inevitably, there will be issues that will need to be addressed after the shooting is over,” Chentsov said.

The challenges are not limited to Ukraine or Ukraine’s bid. Although the EU nations decided to create a path to membership for three of Russia’s neighbors, the appetite for enlargement remains modest. Member states, having made a symbolic gesture, can find ways to slow things down.

Turkey applied in 1987 and is technically still a candidate. Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia have been in membership talks with the European Union for years.

If it joined today, Ukraine would become the EU’s fifth most populous nation and also by far the poorest, and would receive subsidies from the rest of the bloc. Ukraine’s gross domestic product per capita last year was $4,872, while the next-poorest EU country, Bulgaria, stood at $11,683, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.

Some member states, particularly in Western Europe, remain concerned that a new large member state could further complicate EU decision-making. Some believe the EU needs to reform its rules before accepting new members, which could significantly extend the timetable.

EU leaders will meet again on Friday to discuss the impact of Russia’s war on food supplies, the economy and other issues. World leaders, including President Biden, will also meet in Madrid next week for a NATO summit focused on the war in Ukraine and the future of the alliance.

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