HomeNewsEuropeConsensus builds around Ukraine's EU bid ahead of crucial summit

Consensus builds around Ukraine’s EU bid ahead of crucial summit

Political consensus is rapidly building around Ukraine’s application to join the European Union after several countries once considered to be sceptical voiced their explicit support.

EU leaders are meeting later this week in Brussels to decide whether to grant Ukraine candidate status, a mostly symbolic move that the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, sees as a morale boost and a geopolitical victory for his war-torn country.

Ever since Ukraine launched its EU bid in late February – just five days after Russian tanks broke through the border and began a full-scale invasion– Eastern European countries have been leading a vigorous public campaign to rally forces behind Kyiv’s aspirations.

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia even wrote an open letter asking for a fast-track procedure, an unheard-of option. Hungary later added its signature.

On the other side of the table, a group of Western European countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark, remained on the fence, arguing EU accession was not the solution to the pressing problems, namely a war, a migration wave and a looming food crisis.

Enlargement is a complex and highly technical undertaking that depends on the unanimity of the 27 member states, making it possible for a single country to put the brakes on an aspirant’s trajectory.

But two major factors appeared to have recently turned the tables in Ukraine’s favour.

First, a joint visit to Kyiv by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. The three leaders, speaking on behalf of the EU’s three largest economies, delivered an unmistakable “yes” to granting the sought-after candidate status.

Macron said starting the accession process would be “a strong, quick, expected gesture of hope and clarity that we want to send to Ukraine and its people.”

The following day, the European Commission published its long-awaited opinion on Ukraine’s application, building upon the answers the country provided in two extensive questionnaires.

“We have one clear message and that is, yes Ukraine deserves European perspective, yes Ukraine should be welcome as a candidate country,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Full support but a long process ahead

Although the Commission’s application is overall positive, it contains a long series of hard truths that expose Ukraine’s shortcomings and delayed reforms in areas such as the judicial system, corruption, organised crime, media freedom, market economy, gender equality and rights of minorities.

“Good work has been done,” von der Leyen noted. “But important work also remains to be done. The entire process is merits-based. So, it goes by the book and therefore progress depends entirely on Ukraine.”

The Commission’s recommendation opened the doors for a wave of support from countries that, until then, were under scrutiny for their ambiguous positions.

“There is work to do for Ukraine, but the proposal is well balanced,” said Wopke Hoekstra, the Dutch minister of foreign affairs. “Therefore, the Dutch government wants to embrace this proposal.”

“Denmark [is] ready to support Ukraine’s EU candidacy status,” said his Danish counterpart, Jeppe Kofod. “We must send strongest possible signal that Ukraine belongs to the European family.”

Sweden “fully” supported the Commission’s opinion while Spain called it “positive and balanced.”

Alexander Schallenberg, Austria’s foreign affairs minister, was equally favourable and said the bloc “cannot afford geopolitical tunnel vision.”

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa met with the political groups represented in the national parliament to discuss Ukraine’s EU bid and found there was “almost unanimous consensus” to grant the candidate status.

“[We are] expecting a long, demanding and uncertain process,” he added, noting financial, military and humanitarian assistance should be the top priorities now.

“The prospect of integrating new candidate countries requires a reflection on the future institutional and budgetary architecture of [the EU] in order to guarantee a strong and united Europe.”

In Helsinki, Tytti Tuppurainen, Finland’s minister for European affairs, struck a similar line, stressing said the conditions set by Brussels must be met and that the proposed reforms are in Ukraine’s own interest.

Luxembourg and Ireland had previously thrown their weight behind Ukraine’s aspirations, which they reaffirmed on Friday afternoon, following the Commission’s announcement.

“It’s an important symbolic step for the Ukrainian people who are fighting for the values of Europe,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, “but it won’t be for tomorrow. It will take a long time.”

Greece and Cyprus were already inclined to name Ukraine as an official candidate country but they insist the bloc should not forget about the Western Balkans, a region that was long ago promised a European perspective but that today continues to be stuck in accession talks.

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