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EU Ukraine hopes rise as bloc leaders approve candidate status

“Today marks a crucial step on your path to the EU,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter after talks in Brussels. Leaders also agreed to endorse Moldova’s candidacy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he “sincerely welcomed” the European Council’s decision, calling it a “unique and historic moment in EU-Ukraine relations”.

The decision, taken at an EU Council summit, comes a week after European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen said the bloc’s executive body was of the view that Ukraine deserved candidate status because she “has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to uphold European values ​​and standards.”

However, it will probably be years before Ukraine can join the EU. The process is long and requires the agreement of the 27 member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple possibilities for member states to use their right of veto as a political bargaining chip.

Before Ukraine can begin negotiations to join the bloc, it must first meet the Copenhagen Criteria – an opaque trio of requirements that focus on whether or not a country has a free market economy; whether its institutions are fit to uphold European values ​​such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law; and whether it has a functioning and inclusive democracy.

Ukraine is unlikely to be able to meet these criteria while the country is at war, however, von der Leyen acknowledged that it had started to make progress towards meeting them long before the invasion.

Once these criteria are met and all member states agree to start talks on the 35 negotiating chapters – ranging from trade to law to civil society – Ukraine must then proceed with domestic reforms in order to meet the standards. required in each of these areas. Again, all Member States must agree that these requirements have been met before closing each chapter.

Once this has happened, the European Parliament and legislative agendas must approve the decision and ultimately Ukraine will be an EU member state.

The average time to join the EU is four years and 10 months, according to think tank UK in a Changing Europe. However, some Eastern European Member States had to wait up to 10 years.

In addition to a long and complicated process, there are also political considerations that could thwart Ukraine’s European dream.

Not all member states are thrilled that Ukraine is being considered for membership in the bloc. Therefore, it is likely that at each stage one or more will be tempted to throw a spoke in the wheel in order to obtain a concession on something else the EU is debating, such as the allocation of EU funds.

France, Germany and Hungary were less than full in their support. It was only after a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, that the French, German and Italian leaders indicated that they would support Ukraine’s candidate status. Hungary has also dragged its feet, for various reasons, but mainly because it is Russia’s biggest ally in the EU.

Some European countries have also been criticized by Zelensky for not providing enough weapons as Ukraine is in the midst of a desperate battle to defend the Luhansk region in the east of the country.

Reasons for their hesitation range from concerns over corruption to a transfer of power from the western bloc to the east if Ukraine is admitted. There are also concerns about how much of the EU budget Ukraine might consume.

Although all member states have backed the bid, leaders still have multiple opportunities to hang on over the next few years.

Ukraine’s long journey to the EU has only just begun. His status as a candidate could present a moral victory and send a strong message to Russia. But the reality is that Ukraine must now – almost on its own – make reforms that would be difficult enough at the best of times, let alone under the invasion of a foreign army.

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