“Today marks an important step on your path to the EU,” European Council President Charles Michael said on Twitter after talks in Brussels. The leaders also agreed to recognize Moldova’s candidacy.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zhelensky called the decision of the Council of Europe “truly appreciative”, saying that it was “a unique and historic moment in EU / Ukraine relations”.
The decision at the EU Council summit comes a week after European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen said that Ukraine’s candidate status was the opinion of the camp’s governing body because it “clearly demonstrates the country’s aspirations and the country’s will to live up to European values and standards.”
However, it may take many more years for Ukraine to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires the consent of 27 member states at almost every stage. This means that member states have many opportunities to negotiate their veto politically.
Before starting negotiations to join the Federation of Ukraine, it must first meet the Copenhagen criteria – an opaque three requirements that focus on whether a country has a functioning free market economy; Whether its institutions are appropriate to uphold European values, such as the EU’s interpretation of human rights and the rule of law, and whether there is a functioning, inclusive democracy.
Van der Leyen acknowledged that Ukraine could not meet these criteria when the country was at war, but had begun to make progress in achieving them long before the invasion.
Once these criteria are met, all member states have agreed to begin negotiations in 35 chapters – from trade to law and civil society – that Ukraine must make domestic reforms to meet the required standards in each of these areas. Again, all Member States must acknowledge that these requirements have been met before concluding each chapter.
Once that happens, the European Parliament and the legislature must approve the decision of the agenda, and finally, Ukraine will become a member of the European Union.
According to the UK think tank in a changing Europe, it takes an average of four years and 10 months to join the EU. However, some member states in Eastern Europe had to wait up to 10 years.
Beyond a long and complicated process, there are also political considerations that could shatter Ukraine’s European dream.
Not every member country is happy that Ukraine is being considered for entry into the federation. Therefore, at one point or another, one or more people may be tempted to throw a spanner at the job in order to get something else that the EU is debating – such as allocating EU money.
France and Germany and Hungary did not fully support it. It was only after a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, that the leaders of France, Germany and Italy indicated their support for Ukraine’s candidate status. Hungary has also dragged its feet for a variety of reasons, especially as Russia’s largest ally in the European Union.
Zhelensky has been criticized by some European countries for not providing enough weapons, as Ukraine is in the midst of a desperate war to defend the Luhansk region in the east.
The reasons for their reluctance range from concerns about corruption to the transfer of power from the west to the east of the camp if Ukraine is acknowledged. There are also concerns about how much Ukraine could eat in the EU budget.
While all member states support the candidacy, there are still plenty of opportunities for leaders to dig their heels in the coming years.
Ukraine’s long journey to the EU has just begun. Its candidate status can present a moral victory and send a loud message to Russia. But the truth is that Ukraine now – on its own – has to make tough enough reforms at the best of times, let alone during a foreign military invasion.
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