Special conditions at a special time
Until Russia invaded Ukrainian territory, the prospect of Ukraine's entry into the European Union was very illusory. But just a few days after the start of the war, at the end of February, Ukraine applied for EU membership. She then filled out a special questionnaire - a detailed questionnaire that gives an idea of the economic, legal and social situation in the applicant country. In early May, Ukraine returned the completed questionnaire to the European Commission, and already in mid-June, it was recommended to grant the country the status of a candidate for EU membership. And a week later, on June 23, at a summit in Brussels, the leaders of the EU countries unanimously approved this status for Ukraine.
Compared to other countries, Ukraine passed the first stage with lightning speed. For example, Albania took 5 years to get to the candidacy. Bosnia and Herzegovina applied to join the EU in 2016 but has not yet received candidate status. However, European leaders specify that only this stage Ukraine was able to pass quickly. Now the country is in the indefinite waiting room along with Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, which became candidates for more than 10 years ago.
Obtaining a "candidate" is the first official step on the long path of joining the European Union. But it does not guarantee that the state will eventually be accepted into the EU. Staying in this status is not limited in time, and the next stage of negotiations does not start automatically. First, the country will have to bring legislation and living standards to European standards, and then agree on further steps. For example, Macedonia has been waiting for the second stage for 15 years. Turkey is still far from accession talks: when it applied in 1987, the country shared European values far more than Recep Tayyip Erdogan's current, increasingly authoritarian regime. Today, the Turkish politicians who launched the process are no longer alive, and the country's European integration has been frozen for an indefinite period.
Obtaining a "candidate" is the first official step towards joining the European Union. But he does not guarantee that in the end the state will be accepted into the EU.
Necessary reforms in Ukraine
Back in early June, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that almost all major EU countries objected to granting Ukraine the status of an accession candidate. It might seem that we are talking about the expression of political will. But in fact, Draghi's words mean one thing: Ukraine does not meet the formal requirements - the so-called Copenhagen criteria - without which the next steps are impossible . And since the inability to follow bureaucratic procedures freezes the whole process, the European Union (again, for the first time in its history) accompanied the award of status with special conditions.
Ukraine does not meet the formal requirements - the so-called Copenhagen criteria - without which accession to the EU is impossible
Ukraine started its way to the European Union in 2014. It was then that the country signed an association agreement with the EU and, like many others, immediately began to bring its legislation into line with European standards. Since then, it has already adopted about 70% of the necessary norms, and recently also ratified the Istanbul Convention , an international agreement of the Council of Europe to combat gender and domestic violence.
However, now Ukraine is obliged to carry out a number of heavy structural reforms in a short time. Otherwise, her candidacy will be cancelled . The demands are the same as those put forward before the war: they are mainly aimed at strengthening international control over the Ukrainian legal system and introducing democratic institutions. The first and second requirements relate to judicial reform: the selection of judges should take place with the participation of international observers on the basis of not only their professional qualities, but also their impartiality. In the ranking of the most corrupt countries in the world, Ukraine ranks 122nd out of 180, so the third condition is to strengthen the fight against corruption, especially at the level of heads of anti-corruption institutions.
Next, it is necessary to update the anti-money laundering legislation, reform the entire law enforcement system and pass a law against the oligarchy, which traditionally has a strong influence on the parliament and the media in Ukraine.
Next comes the obligation to adapt the Ukrainian law on the media to EU audiovisual legislation and, finally, to bring the law on languages of national minorities in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. It will be difficult for the Ukrainian government to comply with all these demands, especially during the war, but the latter is likely to face the greatest resistance. It implies the right of national minorities, including Russians, to freely communicate and receive education in their native language. Such initiatives did not meet with support even before the start of the war.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasizes that all these reforms are necessary for Ukraine itself - its democracy, economy and citizens. This is an excellent excuse to modernize the country, because the Ukrainian government will be under the vigilant control of its own voters and journalists, as well as Western partners. Perhaps, over time, the list of requirements will even expand, but substantive negotiations with the European Union can begin only after Ukraine fulfills all its obligations. The preliminary deadline for this is the end of the year, although it is obvious that a real assessment of Ukraine's successes is possible only after the end of the war. The European Commission notes that Ukraine is not entitled to any concessions. The country must strictly follow the protocol and fully meet all standard criteria.
From negotiation to action
Having received the status of a candidate for joining the European Union, the state is taken to agree on the so-called road maps - an individual program according to which it will integrate into the bloc. Only after that comes the time for official accession negotiations - their start again must be approved by all EU members. The preparatory period usually takes years, and the European Commission made it clear that Ukraine has a lot of work to do here.
The Roman Empire, whose legal principles were adopted by modern Europe, had little interest in what ethnic groups lived in its provinces, what language they spoke and what religion they professed. The Romans were concerned that the same laws and procedures of Roman law were observed in the colonies as in the heart of the empire. The European Union prioritizes the same principle. EU accession negotiations are 35 chapters and thousands of pages of civil, legal and economic regulations, in accordance with which the future members of the bloc are obliged to bring all spheres of life in the country into line. Successes in each chapter must be acknowledged by all leaders of the European Union. Some of the Balkan countries, which started the negotiation process a few years ago, are still stuck on the discussion of the first chapters.
EU accession negotiations are 35 chapters and thousands of pages of civil, legal and economic prescriptions
When all parts are "worked out", the final vote of the EU leaders takes place. If everyone supports the accession of a new member, it remains to sign and ratify the accession treaty. This may take years. But at the same time, the deadlines strongly depend on how quickly and conscientiously the authorities of the candidate country do their “homework”. On average, the process of joining the European Union takes from 3 to 14 years. Sweden and Finland have gone the fastest way, but many countries take more than eight years. For Croatia, the last state to join the EU, it took 10 years. Ukraine does not expect to join before 2029, however, accession negotiations are planned to begin as early as 2023. In Europe, it is predicted that the whole process could take about 15-20 years.
Integration during the war
Full-fledged integration of Ukraine into the European Union is possible only after the end of the war, also because a lot depends on its outcome. If hostilities really drag on for “ many years ”, the prospect of Ukraine's membership in the EU will be pushed further and further. However, this will not prevent it from implementing European standards, for example, in Western territories. The European Union vote in June was historic not only because the status of candidate was awarded so quickly, but also because it was given to a country embroiled in a full-scale war.
If hostilities drag on for many years, the prospect of Ukraine's membership in the EU will be pushed further and further
Yes, the status of a candidate is a recognition that Ukraine has achieved certain successes in the democratization of the state and society and does not abandon them even in wartime: despite the chaos of the war, the law prevails in the country. But for the European Union, it was much more important to express moral and political support to the Ukrainians, who “ are giving their lives for European values ”, and also to send a clear signal to Russia that attacked them.
Ukraine - a threat to the democratic ideals of the EU?
European politicians do not hide the fact that granting Ukraine the status of a candidate is primarily a political gesture. Ursula von der Leyen, who admitted from the outset that the EU was ready for "unusual" steps this time around, said the decision rallied European countries in the face of Russian imperialism. However, despite the fact that this time the European Union acted as a united front, doubts about Ukraine's membership in the EU have not disappeared.
European politicians do not hide the fact that giving Ukraine the status of a candidate is, first of all, a political gesture
Not all European leaders are enthusiastic about the prospect of Ukraine joining the EU. Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and other Western European countries are skeptical. They fear that the presence of Kyiv will upset the balance of power in the bloc. Ukraine may join the intractable Visegrad Four (Association of the four Central European states: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - ed.), which will affect the current balance of decision-making. And also to be another country that willingly enjoys the benefits of the European market, but with a creak accepts the democratic standards of the EU, like Poland or Hungary.
Vice-President of the European Parliament Katarina Barly reminds that it is impossible to exclude a state from the EU, so it is not worth rushing to accept it into the bloc:
“We have before our eyes the example of Hungary, which systematically undermines the rule of law.”
At the moment, Ukraine, with its oligarchy, corruption and non-transparent legal system, poses a threat to the democratic ideals of the EU.
Another problem is the unresolved territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia, as well as the colossal expenses for the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, which far from all European countries are ready to shoulder. And yet, in a situation of systemic confrontation with Russia, the European Union was forced to take the side of Ukraine, turning a blind eye to the underdevelopment of its economic and political institutions. “We would not have acted like this under other conditions,” admits French President Emmanuel Macron.
Still, persuading skeptical countries to support Ukraine, at least at this initial stage, turned out to be easy. First, it was clearly stated that there would be no more concessions. In order to avoid deceived expectations, the foreign ministers of Germany and France , the Prime Minister of Denmark and other European officials openly speak about this. The very demands put forward by Ukraine along with the assignment of a “candidate” allowed it to get the votes of even doubtful EU leaders. Secondly, this decision does not oblige the European Union to anything: it is still not bound by any deadlines or a promise to eventually accept the country into the bloc. On the other hand, they managed to send an eloquent " signal of hope " to Kiev - they perceived the candidacy there as an important political victory. The European Commission notes that now progress in European integration depends entirely on Ukraine.
What will Ukraine get
The status of a candidate means for Ukraine potential access to billions of dollars of European investments, so the European Union is striving to straighten out the anti-corruption and legal systems of Ukraine. Ukraine's dependence on the collective West grew significantly already during the war, but European countries will certainly take care of the further restoration of the Ukrainian economy. The European Union is able to support full-scale reforms in the country, integrate it into the single European market and offer it special privileges as a potential future member of the bloc.
Other candidate countries received individually agreed targeted assistance from the EU: long-term loans, grants in the field of science and culture, support for certain sectors of the economy. In addition, the EU has a special assistance program IPA , which is used by all candidates for accession: with its help it finances the democratization of institutions, rural development, transport and environmental reforms and provides humanitarian assistance. In addition, Ukraine can count on the fact that the temporary abolition of EU customs duties will remain in force.
In the long term, the European Union is ready to offer Ukraine a gradual stabilization of the economy and politics, but, most likely, any investment will begin to bear fruit only after the end of the war. In the meantime, the status of a candidate for EU membership at least strengthens Ukraine's position in peace negotiations with Russia.