The next two weeks will be crucial for Ukraineʼs accession to the EU — there may be no other chance. Will Ukraine get the candidate status? What does it give and why some countries are against it? Hereʼs our FAQ

Oleksiy Yarmolenko
Yuliana Skibitska
The next two weeks will be crucial for Ukraineʼs accession to the EU — there may be no other chance. Will Ukraine get the candidate status? What does it give and why some countries are against it? Hereʼs our FAQ

The damaged flag of Ukraine together with the EU flagin the central square of Malyn town, Zhytomyr Oblast.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

In the near future, the European Union will decide whether to grant Ukraine the status of a candidate for EU membership. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calls it "the last psychological barrier" to Ukraineʼs membership in the European Union. On June 17, the European Commission will approve the assessment of the Ukrainian application and send it to the leaders of European countries for consideration. Those at the summit on June 23-24 will finally decide what status to give Ukraine. The good news is that Ukraine will definitely get some status. Bad news — any status other than the EU candidate will now be considered a failure. Babel answers the main questions about Ukraineʼs accession to the EU.

At what stage is Ukraine now?

In short, Ukraine has traveled about halfway to the EU since February 24. At least the part that is almost entirely dependent on the European Union. At the beginning of the invasion, they promised to significantly speed up the accession process, and to some extent kept their word. Ukraine signed and applied for EU membership on February 28. In March, a summit of EU leaders veiledly recognized Ukraineʼs European perspective and instructed the European Commission to promptly consider its application. The European Commission developed a questionnaire that was much shorter than usual and handed it over to Ukraine in early April. As early as May 9, the Ukrainian authorities reported that the questionnaire had been completed and submitted to the European Union. This process usually takes a year or more, but Ukraine has managed to complete it in three months.

Now, on the basis of this questionnaire, the European Commission must determine whether Ukraine meets the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession. This means that Ukraine must be located in Europe, it must have an effective democracy, a market economy, the rule of law, respect for and protection of minority rights, and respect for human rights.

If the European Commissionʼs assessment is positive, EU leaders are likely to grant Ukraine candidate status. After that, a long process of reforms will begin to ensure that Ukrainian legislation is fully in line with the European one. The EU will first agree on a date for the start of accession talks, after which chapters will be processed one by one.

One chapter is usually one sphere of Ukraine. It can be anything: culture, sports, customs, taxes, infrastructure, communications, ecology. There are usually about 30 such chapters. The EU and Ukraine are opening up one industry and examining what reforms need to be implemented to fully meet European standards. When all the reforms are completed, then the chapter closes and the next one begins. Without closing the previous chapter transition to the next is impossible. Sometimes chapters can be closed almost immediately — if some sphere of policies in Ukraine is 100% in line with EU requirements. And in some areas, almost everything needs to be changed.

When all the chapters have been passed, the EU draws up an accession treaty and sets a date for its signing. This treaty is then ratified by the parliaments of all EU member states, and a new country appears in the European Union.

Why was the application filed only after the Russian full-scale invasion?

Because earlier European countries didnʼt even want to hear about any prospects for Ukraineʼs accession to the EU. There were many objective reasons for this, but subjective ones prevailed. One of the main ones was that Europe was afraid to provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has repeatedly stated that Ukraine is in his sphere of interest and that he is ready to do anything to prevent it from joining any Western alliance, especially NATO. Putin called the probable accession to the defense alliance a "red line". That is why the European Union said that Ukraine should just wait for the "window of opportunity" that would come after Putinʼs death or regime change in Russia. But now there is no such factor, because Putin has already done what everyone feared most — started a full-scale war in Europe.

The EU understands that Putin attacked Ukraine not because it joined the EU and NATO, but only because it intended to do so. To some extent, the union leaders also understand that if Ukraine had been in the EU and NATO, Russia would hardly have attacked it. Therefore, the invasion, which Russia launched precisely in order to prevent Ukraineʼs movement to the West, gave the Ukrainian authorities the moral right to apply for membership. And the European Union has no moral right to refuse, especially when citizens across Europe support Ukraine en masse and take part in pro-Ukrainian rallies.

There are several other reasons why Ukraineʼs move towards the EU has been very slow. The first is that the European Union initially wanted to "close the Gestalt" with the Western Balkans, which began the accession process in 2003, and since then only Croatia has joined the EU. Some countries have said that the issue of the Balkans should be closed first and then the process of enlargement to the East should begin.

Another reason is trivial: by the EU standards, Ukraine is a very large country. The European Union is a complex mechanism for the development of which all countries must work equally, and the problems of one state become problems for all. The Ukrainian economy can give a serious boost to the European economy, but it can also drag it to the bottom. Ukraine will get a serious representation in the European Parliament, because it has a large population, its own European Commissioner and even the right to veto important decisions within the EU. Therefore, there are statements that first the European Union needs to carry out some bureaucratic reforms, and only then accept Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyi hands over to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen a questionnaire filled out by Ukraine to obtain the status of a candidate for EU membership.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Okay, and what are our chances of getting candidate status? Who is against it?

In May, signals from the EU were not very optimistic. In particular, even the Prime Minister of Italy Mario Draghi stated that almost all major EU countries, except Italy itself, are against granting Ukraine candidate status.

But recently the situation has changed. France and Germany now publicly allow Ukraine to be granted candidate status. Austria has also significantly softened its position. Currently, the EU is actively lobbying for the Ukrainian application — the European delegation is convinced by the Ukrainian delegation with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Olga Stefanyshyna, and relevant Deputy Heads of the Presidentʼs Office. The leaders of the European Union are also actively advocating for Ukraine: the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel. And Polish President Andrzej Duda has even toured European capitals to persuade local politicians to support Ukraine.

Stefanyshyna noted that there are three countries that are currently opposed to the candidacy. She refused to name them publicly, but both Ukrainian and foreign media reported on the Netherlands and Denmark. There is also information about some skepticism in Sweden and Portugal. Their claims are about the same: Ukraine has serious problems with corruption and the rule of law. Most likely, these states will wait for the conclusion of the European Commission and already on its basis will decide whether to vote for granting Ukraine candidate status. So, everything will depend on what the European Commission recommends.

Meeting of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and the President of Poland Andrzej Duda in Kyiv. Duda also delivered a speech in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament).

And if the candidate status is not given? What are the other options?

There are only two options — either Ukraine will receive the status of a potential candidate, or some new alternative will be proposed. With the latter, everything is clear: it is difficult to predict what has never happened and what exactly the European Union will invent.

But the status of a potential candidate isnʼt new. Two countries in the Balkans — Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina — already have it. And to stand in line with them for Ukraine will be a complete failure. These countries to get a candidate status need to solve fundamental problems.

Kosovo is not a member of the UN at all. In addition, this country is not recognized by some EU members. Therefore, the demands on Kosovo are obvious: first, at the international level, settle the secession from Serbia, become a member of the United Nations, gain recognition from all European countries and create a viable state.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with a very complex state system. It was formed after the 1992-1995 war on the basis of the Dayton Accords. In fact, it is a federation of Bosnians, Croats and Serbs, and the country is governed by a presidium of representatives of these three ethnicities. Bosnia also has a special international envoy who has the sole right to even repeal laws. In short, the state system of Bosnia and Herzegovina is inoperable and inoperative, and Serbian autonomy has recently begun a process of secession, creating its own Constitution, army, police, and courts.

If Ukraine falls into this category, it will mean that in Europe it is considered a failed state — a state that cannot function independently, doesnʼt have a stable government, and so on. Currently, Ukraine has a unique chance to gain candidate status and start a formal negotiation process.

A woman is holding a poster calling for Ukraine to be granted EU candidate status during a rally in Cologne, Germany, on June 11.

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Applications were submitted by Georgia and Moldova. Are they actually considered? What is their fate?

The problems of Georgia and Moldova on their way to the EU are almost identical to those of Ukraine, the main one being Russiaʼs influence and Putinʼs desire to leave those countries in Russian sphere of influence. That is why the EU has always considered these three states together for further enlargement. Now Europeʼs desire not to make Putin angry is irrelevant.

After Ukraineʼs application, Georgia and Moldova also realized that this is "a window of opportunity" for them. Therefore, they promptly submitted applications, filled out questionnaires, and are waiting for the decision from the European Commission.

According to media sources and hints from some EU countries, Moldova may also receive candidate status along with Ukraine. First, because now Moldova has a pro-European president and government, and second because the EU has a strong lobbyist for Moldovaʼs bid — Romania. In addition, the European Union likes to grant candidate status to several states at once and accept them simultaneously. Thus, not only will the EU stimulate reforms in these countries, but they will also help each other, because if Moldova slows down, Ukraine will slow down, and vice versa.

But Georgiaʼs prospects are much worse. Most likely, Georgians will be separated from Ukraine and Moldova and will not be given candidate status. This is due to the fact that the Georgian authorities have been in constant conflict with the EU in recent years. After the last parliamentary elections, the entire opposition in Georgia decided to boycott the work of the parliament, a political agreement was reached with the mediation of the European Union, but after a while the governing party in Georgia voluntarily left it. The EU also has serious questions about the medical treatment of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who is now in prison. He has not been treated for a long time and videos from his cell were had been leaked to the media. The European Parliament has even called on the EU to impose sanctions on Georgian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of Georgiaʼs ruling party, whose business is closely linked to Russia.

Georgia is aware of this and has already launched an information campaign criticizing the EU and saying that they should also receive candidate status. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has said that Georgia deserves an EU candidate status more than Ukraine or Moldova.

Itʼs all very interesting, but still when will Ukraine become a member of the EU?

This will happen only after Ukraine meets all the requirements and fully implements all European standards.

There are various examples in the history of EU enlargement. Finland applied in 1992 and became a member of the European Union in 1995. Poland applied in 1994 and joined the EU 10 years later. The last country to join the European Union is Croatia. She applied in 2003 and became a new member of the EU in 2013.

There are also countries that are still candidates for accession. These are the four Balkan countries: Albania, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Turkey has the same status. But in all these countries the process is slowing down. Turkey does not meet EU requirements at all and does not want to join it. In Serbia, the majority of the population does not want to join the European Union, and the country itself has close ties with Russia. Albania has not even started accession talks, and Montenegroʼs foreign policy orientation is changing with the change of government, either towards the EU or Serbia. Northern Macedonia is doing the most to join the European Union, but its progress is being blocked by its neighbors. Initially, Greece demanded a change of the countryʼs name — and the Macedonians did. Now Bulgaria is demanding from Northern Macedonia to recognize its people and language have Bulgarian roots.

Most importantly, after obtaining the status of a candidate, everything will depend entirely on the Ukrainian authorities. They will receive a list of reforms that need to be implemented, and society will be able to control this process. In addition, candidate status will mean access to EU funds — in fact, the EU itself will provide money for reforms. One thing is for sure: the sooner Ukraine is reformed, the sooner it will be able to become a member of the EU.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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A boy from Ukraine holds an EU flag during the celebration of International Childrenʼs Day on June 1 in Krakow, Poland.

Getty Images / «Babel'»