Ukraine’s hopes for the EU grow as bloc leaders agree to candidate status

“Today is a decisive step towards the European Union,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter after talks in Brussels. The leaders also agreed to accept Moldova’s candidacy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he “sincerely approves” the European Council’s decision, calling it “a unique and historic moment in EU-Ukraine relations”.

The decision, taken at the EU Council summit, came a week after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc’s executive said Ukraine deserved candidate status. because it “clearly demonstrated the country’s ambitions and determination to live up to European values ​​and standards.

However, it will probably be many years before Ukraine can join the European Union. The process is long and requires approval from the 27 Member States at almost every stage. This means that there are ample opportunities for Member States to use their veto as a political bargaining chip.

Before Ukraine can start negotiations to join the bloc, it must first meet the Copenhagen criteria – a vague triad of requirements aimed at whether the country has a functioning free-market economy; whether its institutions have the right to uphold European values ​​such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law; and whether it has a functioning and inclusive democracy.

Ukraine is unlikely to be able to meet these criteria while at war, but von der Leyen admitted she had made progress in achieving them long before the invasion.

Once these criteria are met and all member states agree to start talks on 35 negotiating chapters – from trade to law to civil society – Ukraine will need to implement internal reforms to meet the standards required in each of these areas. Again, all member states must agree to meet these requirements before closing each chapter.

Once this is done, the decision must be approved by the European Parliament and the legislative agendas, and eventually Ukraine will become a member of the European Union.

According to the British think tank that is changing Europe, the average time to join the European Union is four years and ten months. However, some Eastern European member states had to wait up to 10 years.

In addition to the long and complicated process, there are also political considerations that can frustrate Ukraine’s European dream.

Not every member state is thrilled that Ukraine is considered joining the bloc. Therefore, at each stage, one or more people will be tempted to jump into the vortex to get a concession for something else the EU is talking about – for example, the allocation of EU funds.

France, Germany and Hungary were less saddened by their support. It was only after a visit to Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, that leaders of France, Germany and Italy expressed support for Ukraine’s candidate status. Hungary has also slowed down, for various reasons, but most notably as Russia’s greatest ally in the European Union.

Zelensky also criticized some European countries for not having enough weapons, as Ukraine is engaged in a desperate struggle to defend the Lugansk region in the east of the country.

The reasons for their reluctance range from fear of corruption to transfer of power from the Western bloc to the East if Ukraine is accepted. There are also concerns about how much Ukraine could consume from the EU budget.

While all member states supported this candidacy, leaders still have plenty of opportunities to trample themselves in the coming years.

The long journey from Ukraine to the European Union has just begun. Her status as a candidate could represent a moral victory and send a message to Russia. But the truth is, Ukraine must now – largely on its own – implement reforms that will be tough enough in the best of times, not to mention an invasion by a foreign army.

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