In the European Parliament members have adopted a non-binding resolution on June 8th, 2022 recommending that the Council of the European Union grant Ukraine the status of a candidate for joining the EU, declaring it would be a “clear political signal of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”
The leaders of the European Parliament factions on June 9th, 2020 calling on the European Union to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, as well as to work on granting the same status to Georgia.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky signed Ukraine’s official request to join the EU on Feb. 28. He said then that in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine would be asking EU to accept Ukraine as a member-state through a special procedure to avoid any delays.
This at a time the EU is headed for further change, given the change in global political and economic climate and must decide if the expansion of the European project has reached its limits with the EU not in need of expansion, but in need of consolidation, with closer integration and greater strategic independence.
Political symbolism has never been a stranger to the EU parliament, at a time arguments in the European Parliament and EU Council, like in the public domain, are too often justified by passion rather than reason and pragmatism.
The history of EU enlargement, with a wave of seven enlargements since 1952 confirms how since the German unification the EU has acted too expeditiously, compromised on its values and allowed countries despite deep-seeded corruption issues entry and failed to enforce its own standards towards member states with “Rule Of Law”, “Freedom of the Press” and “Judiciary Independence” issues.
These issues, which have caused serious and persistent breaches in EU values have led on occasions the European Commission decided to activate the preventive arm of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) against Hungary and Poland on the ground that “there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law” there.
At this stage the European Union, a sphere of common values and interests cannot open its doors to all who inspire to enter, or has the capacity to absorb or integrate all aspiring applicants.
The supposition, that the EU is not in need of enlargement, but in need of consolidation was confirmed by President Macron’s 2019 veto together with Denmark and the Netherlands opposing the candidacy of North Macedonia and Albania into the EU. This despite other European ministers calling for the Western Balkan countries to join the other member states.
This situation has not changed, just as the need for institutional reforms; more stringent conditions on the rule of law for applicant countries; and the possibility to reverse the accession process of candidate members given the lack of progress in the negotiations has not changed.
For the EU to make the choice for consolidation is to make the choice for protecting the achievements made during the last fifty years and is an act of self-defence and this enlargement limitation will assist Europe in finding greater strategic clarity.
There is agreement, how enlargement before fundamental constitutional- and treaties- reform, addressing the principle of unanimity for key decision makes the EU increasingly unworkable and prone to obstruction by single members which have been able to extract concessions (financial or otherwise.)
Consequently, there is consensus among some of the more traditional Maastricht EU members, that enlargement before treaty reform and subduing national control over the EU is not in the interest of the EU.
This with Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey being officially candidates to join the EU, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates. Just as former members of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova formally joined the list of EU aspirants following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The process to join the EU is a complicated process (application, candidate, negotiations and accession) where the candidate has to integrate 170.000 pages of regulation into its administrative and legal systems. It has to go through an inner metamorphosis of an incredible width and depth which can take many years even decades as Turkey shows, which process started in 1987 and has not been completed.
In general the process takes 10-15 years as shown by Poland which joined the EU in 2004, fourteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall; Romania-candidacy 1995, membership 2007; Cyprus association 1972, candidacy 1990, membership 2004. Thereby, despite the best intention it cannot be ruled out that some countries won’t eventually join the EU.
With President Macron new proposals delivered in a recent speech to the EU parliament the old idea of a three-tier Europe has been revived: An inner circle made up of a palpably strengthened Eurozone, a second circle that consists of EU members in a strong single market and a much-less-integrated outer “half-way house” circle that is “a union of values, democratic principles and economic freedoms.”
This new form of European cooperation that correctly rejects a swift application process of Ukraine and others makes great sense, is suggesting a broader, different organisation would be more efficient and that it could take Kyiv decades to join the EU and which could potentially one day include Russia and Turkey.
Much in the EU seems to be approached from the wave of emotions, which have swept away basic realism, enforced by the media and reacting to the demand for instant satisfaction. Much like a surfer catching the wave of moral reasoning, instead of clear headed pragmatism without ideological constraints when looking at the facts and balancing the economic interests and the limits of moral reasoning. This while appreciating the immense risks associated with these (sanction, energy, economy and enlargement) decisions.
The commitment by the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (Dear Volodymyr, my message today is clear, Ukraine belongs in the European family”) made during her visit to Kyiv on April 8 speaks for itself, but seems to be a sympathetic, but overpromising message.
To answer Ukraine request for immediate accessioning and to launch the initial step of the enlargement process and to grant Ukraine candidate status at the June 23-24 would be astonishing. This also raises unrealistic expectations with Ukraine and other candidate members Moldova and Georgia, which expectations can hardly can be met.
At this time that the EU needs to consolidate and there is no need for more member with corruption or rule of law issues. It would have been reasonable to reflect more seriously on the desirability of the Ukraine candidacy, and revisit this issue preferable in a less emotional climate, also given the major long term implications.
Looking at the process, with this possible decision to grant Ukraine candidate status for EU membership, the EU is practising a form of symbolism politics with foundations build on quicksand.
There are several objections to the EU candidacy Ukraine:
•Ukraine does not meet the Copenhagen criteria related to the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.is not ready to open discussion on the fundamentals, democracy,
•Ukraine’s democracy is qualified by the Economist as a “hybrid democracy”, while Freedom House calls the country “partly free.” and has corruption and institutional issues. Ukraine ranks 118th (out of 137) in institutions and on the corruption index 122nd (out of 180.)
•There are also concerns about media influence by oligarchs which also dominate key sectors of the Ukrainian economy, including natural resources and have been accused of blocking competition and are a significant factor of corruption in Ukraine. Some improvement has been made with “the oligarch law” addressing the conflict of interest between politicians and media and big business. Also President Zelensky 2019 Presidential elections oligarchs played a key role in the process.
•Ukraine does not have full control over its borders and territories (Crimea, Donbas) which is a requirement for candidates for EU membership.
•Ukraine would be the 5th populist state in the EU and is poorer than the poorest EU member with a capita gross domestic product of $4,872 which is less than half of the poorest EU member and is in need of institutional reform.
Institutional transformation is a decade long process, especially difficult for a system saturated by bureaucracy and corruption as the attempts during the last eight years have shown, with the EU assisting and supplying Ukraine since 2014 with up to Euro 17 billion in grants and loans and this is only the beginning.
As the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte noted, “All countries on the European continent are entitled to join the EU, provided they meet the conditions, but Ukraine was “very far away” from candidate membership before the Russian invasion.”
Prime Minister Mark Rutte also noted about previous statements that Ukraine is part of the European family, “that was more of an “emotional” than a “legal” statement” which seems to sum up the remarkable mood.
Regardless of the sympathy for Ukraine and the messaging and oratorical abilities of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy while addressing the EU “Do prove you are with us” and stating and demanding the EU has the obligation to admit Ukraine as candidate, I am rather uncomfortable with the EU candidacy of Ukraine, a country at war, a financial bottomless pit and how this is being approached.
Starting Ukraine EU accession process is a flawed idea, more based on emotions than the result of having reflected seriously on the desirability and involved problems with Ukraine EU candidacy / membership.
To avoid a complete rejection of a full EU candidacy and to meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people, likely a compromise can be found based on the creation of a “half-way” house on the road towards a possible candidacy. Once conditions are democracy, corruption, judicial independence and working institution issues are improve Ukraine can leave the doghouse as a EU candidate and serious negotiations can start,
The conclusion at this time: Ukraine is far away to meet the Copenhagen criteria enabling it the start of negotiations on democratic, economic and social norms, therefor to approve a candidacy of Ukraine at this time, conditional or unconditional, would be putting lipstick on a pig. Perhaps this would be an emotional satisfying decision, but this would also be the wrong decision to take at this time.