On June 23-24, the European Commission may grant Ukraine the status of a candidate member of the EU. At the same time, the path to full membership can take years. What worries Western leaders?
Candidate status and more weapons for Kyiv
The European Parliament spoke in favor of granting Ukraine the status of a candidate member of the EU. Officially, this decision can be approved on June 23-24, after the June 17 debate on this issue in the European Commission.
However, 438 MEPs approved a resolution recommending that the applications of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia be considered and supported on the midway to the EU accession. 65 MPs were against, 94 abstained.
The EP resolution on "EU foreign, security and defense policy due to Russia's aggressive war against Ukraine" stresses that the approach to Ukraine's integration should include support for democratic and economic reforms, as well as increased security and defense capabilities.
In particular, the MEPs support providing both financial and military assistance to Ukraine, and also call for increasing the defense capability of the Eastern Partnership countries and ceasing blocking the supply of weapons to both them and Ukraine.
"The European Parliament encourages member states to further enhance the military resilience of Ukraine by providing weapons, including anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons," the resolution says.
The deputies also stated that Poland had become a logistics center responsible for providing supplies to the Ukrainian armed forces, therefore they also called for help to strengthen its cybersecurity and defense capabilities.
First and second-class candidates
At the same time, Western media are very cautious about the chances for Kyiv to quickly gain EU membership.
CNBC stresses that this process will not be easy and recalls that Ukraine is still in a state of active war, in addition, several more states have been on the waiting list for joining the EU for years. We are talking about the Western Balkans:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- North Macedonia;
Even if the European Commission approves the application and Ukraine becomes a candidate in June, this will be "only the beginning of a long and difficult journey," the authors of the article stress.
"This is the moment we need to send the strongest of political message: Ukraine belongs in the European family," European Parliament’s President Roberta Metsola explained the acceleration of procedures for Ukraine.
Daniel Gros, from the Brussels-based think tank CEPS, adds that receiving political support to join the EU will become a moral boost to Ukraine and a signal to Russia.
Austrian ministers Alexander Schallenberg and Karoline Edtstadler stressed in a letter to the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell in late May that the Western Balkans cannot be left behind Ukraine:
"We cannot allow ourselves to create first and second-class candidates."
Fear of "another Hungary" in EU
The EU leaders have become more open to enlargement, but do not want to ever again make the same mistake as with the accession of Budapest, which, in fact, at the behest of Russia, delays the adoption of sanctions against the Kremlin.
This was stated by Anna Rosenberg, partner at advisory firm Signum Global:
"No EU leaders wants to allow a second Hungary into the bloc."
It was the blocking of the oil embargo by Viktor Orban that showed how easily countries with different priorities can face stalemate in decision-making, and it is not known whether this problem will be exacerbated by the bloc expansion by more than 27 members.
The second difficulty is that there is no clarity when Russia's war in Ukraine will end. Experts explain that a frozen conflict will prevent Kyiv from gaining a full membership.
Hesitation of European leaders
The outlet GMF recalls that messages from European leaders, who have been discussing the possibility of EU enlargement since the end of May, were mixed.
Although European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Ukraine "one of us" and assured that Europe wanted Kyiv in the EU, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed creating a separate community for those countries that aspire to membership but cannot gain it fast enough.
In addition, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, stunned by the trip to Bucha, nevertheless warned Europe against "false promises" or "shortcuts" for Ukraine's membership.
At the same time, the German Foreign Minister stressed:
"Ukraine is an integral part of Europe, I wish that we will find a strong and convincing answer to your desire to join."
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also expressed the opinion that they should not change the rules specially for Ukraine to join the EU, because then Europe will not be understood by the countries of the Western Balkans standing in line for accession.
Long path of reforms and signal to Putin
In addition, CNBC recalls one more point: Ukraine still has to impose a number of economic and political reforms in order to implement European norms.
GMF also believes that Ukraine today is not ready for EU membership, referring to the latest report of the European Commission on the implementation of the Association Agreement.
The document refers to the progress made, but notes that Ukraine still needs to make significant efforts in the rule of law, judicial reform, and intellectual property rights.
According to the authors of the article, the time has also come for the EU to reinvent the models of European integration: preserving the rules, but giving a clear and attractive perspective for those who have not yet completed all the steps to join.
The authors stress that Ukrainians must clearly understand that early candidacy does not mean fast membership.
However, experts believe that refusing to grant Ukraine EU candidate status will send the wrong signal and reward Russia's criminal behavior.
That is why the signal to Putin, who has resisted the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of his neighbors for years, and especially Kyiv, should be the opposite one.