A Realistic Path towards Ukraine’s Accession to the EU - Foundation Office Ukraine
For any new candidate aspiring to join the EU nowadays, the options are not plentiful, and the path is rocky – certainly if candidates come from the former communist bloc, are below the EU GDP average and/or hobbled with perennial conflicts. The EU too struggles with itself, torn about its future and that of enlargement. Claims of enlargement being dead may prove premature though, and, as its response to the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine shows, the EU does have sharp geopolitical teeth in spite of its many internal problems. Yet for Ukraine, fighting a long war with a nuclear power and facing daunting challenges of postwar reconstruction, while it also aims to reform and become an EU member, a rocky path is an understatement.
And yet, most decisively in 2022, when the candidate status was granted to Ukraine (and Moldova) last June, the EU and Ukraine embarked together on this path. A path which to a great extent aims to achieve the higher goals of the Euromaidan or Revolution of Dignity (2014) and settle for good Ukraine’s rightful strategic place in the Euro-Atlantic structures – while, in the process, providing new meaning to “Europe” and purpose to the EU. The road is uncertain, but the conditions are relatively clear (at least on paper, even if politics might follow other rationales): namely, fundamental rule of law and democratic reforms, implementation of the EU acquis, etc. For starters, at the very minimum, this implies fulfilling 7 key conditions laid out in the EU decision granting candidate status to Ukraine.
The debate is growing in the EU on whether to greenlight the opening of accession negotiations in late 2023. Member states remain torn between reluctance to tolerate shortcuts to the EU (always, but especially with Ukraine and as long as the war rages on) at a time when internal reform in the Union seems wanting, while others are keen to seize the political momentum, lest Ukraine should forever languish in the never-ending queue of candidate countries, reforms whither and war moral suffers too.
The First Part of this policy paper looks at different positions and perspectives on Ukraine’s EU path within several member states with various degrees of influence on the matter. It helps clarify – especially for Ukrainian policymakers and civil society – complex discussions and policy questions inside the EU that Ukrainians will face in the next few years. Specifically, it addresses the cases of France, Germany, Central European states and Spain, given its upcoming presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2023. It finds that these positions are dynamic, hence the opportunities - although there are a number of end conditions that will in any case be required of Ukraine and obstacles it will have to face - hence the challenges.
A number of building and stumbling blocks on Ukraine’s EU path are discussed. Moreover, the paper also draws tentative lessons learned from the process of enlargement to the Western Balkans, concluding that, while it is not really a model for Ukraine, there are nevertheless aspects that Ukrainian policymakers may want to bear in mind.
The authors warn against overly high expectations regarding the timing of accession, but they have to be just right to maintain domestic support and reform momentum. Teamwork and strategic cooperation with acceding countries – in the case of Ukraine, this clearly applies to Moldova – can greatly help to make progress along the different yardsticks of the process. The narrative matters too: resisting Russia’s imperialism and upholding democratic values is important – but may not be enough for Ukraine in the long term.