The EU has prepared a “symbolic” candidate status for Ukraine: it is far from membership
Kyiv will have to sweat a lot because of its European ambitions
The European Union summit opens in Brussels on Thursday, at which Ukraine is expected to be granted the status of an official candidate for EU membership. Despite the fact that European politicians announced the unanimous approval of this step, the West admits that this is a “symbolic”, albeit “strengthening morale” decision for Kyiv.
EU leaders in Brussels are about to sign a recommendation presented last week by the European Commission, the union's executive body.
Expectations for a positive response rose after four EU leaders, including the French president and German chancellor, who were seen as among the most skeptical about Ukraine's admission to the European Union, visited Kyiv last week. Diplomatic sources told Reuters that after several days of internal discussions in the European Union, there was no opposition among the 27 member states to granting Ukraine the status of a candidate country.
At the same time, the representative of France, which presides over the EU until the end of June, told reporters at a briefing that he was sure that none of the 27 candidates would block the status of the candidacy of Ukraine and Moldova: “We are reaching a consensus. At the moment, I cannot say that all 27 have been agreed, but there is a reasonable hope of quickly reaching an agreement on Ukraine and Moldova in the Council of the EU.
Apparently, granting Kyiv a “candidate degree” is a done deal. As Foreign Minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn said on the eve of the meeting with European colleagues, the goal of the ongoing work is to prove that “Ukraine belongs to Europe, that we will also defend the values that Ukraine defends.”
If EU leaders approve Ukraine's request, it will be the first time the bloc has granted candidate status to a country in a state of military conflict. And many officials say it's unrealistic to expect Ukraine's membership bid to move forward until peace is restored to the country.
According to sources, Moldova will also almost certainly receive the status of a candidate, but Georgia was not lucky – European politicians demand that it ensure a way out of the political impasse that has arisen in this Transcaucasian republic.
Despite the earlier concerns of representatives of the northern member states EU that accepting Ukraine, which suffers from widespread corruption, is unrealistic, the Danish foreign minister said he welcomes the granting of candidate status to Kyiv.
A poll released by the European Council on Foreign Relations this week showed that 57% of Europeans supported Ukraine's membership bid. The greatest support was expressed in Poland (70%). And in Germany, France and Italy, support was significantly lower – respectively 48%, 47% and 46%.
But all the enthusiasm that is carefully portrayed both in European capitals and in Kyiv on the eve of the “historic” summit, fades with a clear-cut consideration in Europe: yes, candidate status for Ukraine will mark the EU's strategic shift to the east, yes, this is an expression of solidarity with Ukraine , but it will likely take years for Kyiv to become a member of the pan-European bloc, if it ever does.
Before the Ukrainian conflict, EU membership was not even an option for a country of 41 million people riddled with corruption, admits The Guardian. The EU association agreement with Kyiv describes Ukraine as a “European country that shares a common history and common values”, but does not mention membership.
Awarding a PhD is the first official step towards EU membership, but the path can be long and difficult, and there is no guarantee that a candidate will eventually be accepted into the “club,” Politico stresses. Candidate status does not automatically start accession negotiations – this usually happens later and, again, requires the approval of all EU member states. At the end of last week, European Commission officials made it clear that Ukraine and Moldova have hard work to do before membership talks begin.
And the well-known example of Turkey clearly does not inspire the Kiev leadership. Ankara received candidate status as early as 1999 and began accession negotiations in 2005. But over the years, the application for membership has stalled tightly. Montenegro, which began official negotiations in 2012, has not advanced in 10 years to a full-fledged “registration” in the European home.
According to the procedure, potential EU members enter into negotiations that last for years. Candidate countries must adopt democratic norms and implement reforms to comply with EU rules, regulations and standards in a wide range of areas, including the economy and the rule of law.
Negotiations are grouped into “chapters” for different policy areas, and the candidate can complete the “chapter” only when all EU members agree that the country in question has ticked the required boxes.
When a country is deemed to have closed all chapters, once again all EU governments must sign their consent before that country can be finally admitted to the EU. It is known that some European states have become deeply skeptical about the expansion of the Union and are looking for ways to slow down any steps to add new members.
In some cases, Member States have argued that some new EU countries that met all the criteria on paper did not meet them in practice upon adoption. At least privately, some officials in Europe are wondering if, say, the states of the Western Balkans will ever fulfill the requirements for EU membership.
So it's time for one or another country to join in the EU depends on how quickly the negotiations start and how smoothly they go. And this, in turn, depends on both potential members and national governments of the EU.
Among the countries that joined the EU the fastest were Sweden and Finland. It took them approximately three years from applying to joining the bloc. Some of the new EU members took much longer to go through this process – more than a decade for Romania (11.5 years), Bulgaria (11.1) and Croatia (10.4). Cyprus and Malta (13.8 years) became the “champions” for the longest period between application and admission to the European Union.
However, in any case, the status of the candidate has a great symbolic meaning, because it means “the first seal of approval.” Understanding that the road to the EU, even with such a “seal”, will be long, Kyiv finds interesting France’s proposals to create a “European political community” that unites the EU countries with former (currently the UK) and potential members on security, energy and opportunities for young people.
While a premonition of a holiday in connection with the candidacy reigns in Kyiv, on the eve of the EU summit, a scandal has ripened in the Balkans – countries that have long been jostling in the hallway of the common European house were outraged that they were bypassed by assertive Ukrainians.
And the presence of representatives of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia at the meeting on integration with the EU raised doubts. All three countries have received candidate status for EU membership, but none have made significant progress in recent years. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote offendedly in a microblog: “It seems that what we will hear at the end will be another “No, sorry!”
North Macedonia received the status of a candidate country in 2005, Serbia – in 2012 and Albania in 2014. Of these three states, only Serbia has started official accession negotiations. And in Skopje and Tirana, whose applications for EU membership are considered “joint”, they are waiting and can not wait for the start of negotiations. The problem lies in the veto by Bulgaria, which has a number of historical and cultural demands on North Macedonia. And to start negotiations on EU membership, unanimity between 27 EU member states is required.
However, North Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro supported Ukraine's candidacy. But their opinion, however, is optional.