On the same day, February 28, he called for the EU to “urgently admit Ukraine using a new procedure… our goal is to stand with all Europeans and be equal to them. I’m sure we deserve it. I’m sure it’s possible.”
The following year, Russia invaded Donbas and illegally annexed Crimea.
While most European nations are firmly behind Ukraine and, to varying degrees, have aided Zelensky in his war efforts, it is not certain that his wish will be granted.
For political and procedural reasons, the EU may finally decide that now is not the right time. And even if they agreed with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s view that Ukraine should be considered for membership, it could take years, even decades, for that to become a reality.
This is why.
What is the process to join the EU?
On paper, the process is relatively straightforward. A country applies and the Commission gives a verdict on whether or not it should be considered for candidacy. As is likely to be the case in Ukraine, the Commission will likely come up with some ways for member states to accept a new candidate.
It is generally believed that the Commission will put forward two options with regard to Ukraine, which amount to essentially the same thing, with some minor differences: that Ukraine’s accession will only start properly once the war is over and the country’s institutions are able to deliver with the necessary requirements to join the EU.
The Copenhagen Criteria are a rather opaque trio of requirements that the EU must meet with a candidate state in order to enter into proper accession negotiations. They focus on whether or not that country has a functioning free market economy, whether the country’s institutions are adequate to uphold European values such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law, and whether the country has an inclusive democracy. and make it work.
Once the country has deemed it has met this criterion, it can begin the 35 EU negotiating chapters, the last three of which return to some areas of the Copenhagen Criteria.
Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, it must be ratified in the EU Parliament and by the legislative branches of government in each member state.
How do EU countries feel about Ukraine’s accession to the EU?
This is where it starts to get complicated. While the EU and its 27 members have largely supported Ukraine in its war effort, for a country currently at war to start the accession process poses all sorts of problems.
There are a number of candidate states that have been in the accession process for years, and in some cases their accession has been delayed due to internal political instability. An example of this is the case of Turkey, whose application has essentially been frozen due to fears of a backsliding on the rule of law and human rights. Starting the process with a country currently at war will raise questions from other candidate states who have similarly had their applications frozen.
There are also real concerns that Ukraine is a long way from meeting the Copenhagen Criteria any time soon. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine ranks 122nd on its list of 180 countries. For comparison, Russia is ranked 136th. Given that parts of Ukraine are currently occupied by Russia and it could be long after the war is over, it is hard to predict whether this will get better or worse in the coming years. Some EU officials have also expressed fear that after the war it will be difficult to know what human rights inside Ukraine will look like.
Beyond these practical issues, there are also political objections. Some Western member states that have been in the EU since the beginning are concerned about the balance of power shifting to the east, where some countries have regressed on things like the rule of law in recent years. The European establishment has had problems with Hungary and Poland playing by EU rules and is learning the hard way that once a country is in, it can get away with much more.
Other member states are concerned that Ukraine will join the bloc and immediately consume a large amount of the EU budget due to the huge reconstruction exercise that will have to be undertaken.
And some simply express concern that bringing Ukraine into a long and painful negotiation with the EU is not the best way to support the country at the moment.
How long would it take?
It really depends on what state Ukraine is in when the war ends. It seems highly unlikely that Ukraine will come close to meeting the criteria for even opening negotiations for any significant period of time after the end of the war. Aside from the reconstruction project, Ukraine will have to transition from a country operating under varying degrees of martial law and curfews to a functioning democracy.
The average time for a country to join the EU is four years and 10 months, according to the London, UK think tank in a Changing Europe. Member states that could be considered a kind of model for Ukrainian membership (Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovenia) exceeded the average waiting time.
What would joining the EU mean for Ukraine?
Ukraine would be a member of the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU’s single market and customs union, and would have the protection of EU courts and access to the EU budget.
Joining the EU would also place Ukraine very clearly in the club of countries that consider themselves part of the Western alliance and the US-led world order.
How might Russia react?
Moscow has previously said that joining the EU would be equivalent to joining NATO, a harder point to reject now that the EU is becoming so overtly geopolitical.
Russia has already reacted very badly to the suggestion that EU member states Finland and Sweden might join NATO. Seeing Ukraine warmly embraced by an institution so associated with the West will no doubt be seen as an act of aggression on the part of Putin.
How likely is Ukraine’s gamble to succeed?
It won’t happen soon, but the EU is likely to make a special effort to support Ukraine after its invasion by Russia.
Many European leaders have gone to visit Zelensky in Kyiv, and some officials think they cannot leave the June 24 leaders’ summit empty-handed after posing for photos alongside a real wartime president. .
If von der Leyen presents his version to member states with warnings to accept Ukraine’s candidacy, it would be difficult for the EU to reject it outright.
But the EU has a long history of doing unexpected things, even during this crisis. And more often than not, these debates turn into a war of attrition between countries unable to agree, before being kicked in the tall grass for another day.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.