EU set to proceed on Ukraine membership bid but there will be conditions
Russia-Ukraine War: The move comes as the EU looks to inject impetus into its enlargement policy following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The European Union’s executive arm will meet later Tuesday to finalize a decision on whether to recommend formally opening Ukraine’s membership talks, with expectations of a positive outcome for Kyiv but with conditions attached.
The European Commission will likely recommend that member states open formal negotiations upon the completion of reforms and legislation on minorities, anti-corruption as well as “de-oligarchisation” and lobbying, according to people familiar with the matter and documents seen by Bloomberg.
The move comes as the EU looks to inject impetus into its enlargement policy following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s attempts to destabilize Europe.
The final wording of the opinion was yet to be finalized, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private.
When Ukraine was granted candidate status last June, the EU set out seven steps that Kyiv needed to enact in order to move forward with the accession process. Ukraine has completed four of those milestones — relating to the judicial, media independence and money-laundering — but several actions in the other areas remain outstanding, the people said.
The commission’s opinion, which will be released on Nov. 8, will need to be approved by member states when EU leaders meet in December for a summit.
The fulfillment of the four conditions was reported earlier by Ukraine’s Radio Svoboda.
Should EU leaders decide to formally open negotiations, the bloc’s executive arm would start technical work on preparing the accession process by road-mapping and screening the level of alignment between European legislation and Ukraine’s in parallel to Kyiv completing the pending reforms, said the people.
Still, even with member states’ green light the negotiations would take years as the path to membership is a long and complicated one. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.
“EU enlargement is a driving force for long-term stability, peace and prosperity across the continent,” according to a draft of the communication. “It is a powerful tool to promote democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.”
The communication takes stock of relations with 10 enlargement countries, including candidates in the Western Balkans such as Serbia and nations like Georgia vying to obtain that status.
As part of efforts to accelerate economic convergence with the Western Balkans the commission will propose a new growth plan that “would bring forward some of the advantages and further reform incentives of EU membership before accession.”
Outlining the status of ongoing accession procedures, it will also note that the track record of several candidate countries remains patchy when it comes to aligning with the EU’s foreign policy, implementing judicial reforms and tackling corruption and crime.
“Attempts by politicians in several countries to publicly expose and pressure magistrates, particularly on sensitive cases, remained a worrying practice,” according to the document. “Institutional arrangements that negatively affect the independence of judges and prosecutors remained in place, ultimately affecting the balance and separation of powers.”
The people noted that disputes and unsolved tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have stalled their European paths, while developments in the Republika Srpska, where a pro-Russia entity is blocking reforms, are tainting Bosnia-Herzegovina’s chances of opening accession negotiations.
The communication acknowledges that accession negotiations with Turkey are at a standstill and Ankara has moved away from the EU in many areas. However, it describes Turkey as a key partner on issues such as migration, energy and security. While accession is off the table, the EU has previously indicated that it is open to exploring other ways to boost relations.
The EU is looking to move relations with Turkey forward in a strategic manner, the communication is expected to say. Turkey and the EU are scheduled to hold a high-level dialog on migration and security later this month.
“EU Enlargement fatigues seems to be over, at least for now,” said Engjellushe Morina, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Morina warned however that “while there is consensus among EU27 of the need to enlarge, there is hardly any quality debate among member states or the national public on ‘the how’ Europe should proceed with enlargement.”