Ukraine is in a hurry to join the European Union. He has already completed the questionnaire that the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, delivered in person to President Volodímir Zelensky during his visit to kyiv just under two weeks ago, as announced by the Ukrainian government in an interview in a local radio. Despite the fact that Russian bombs fall on the country and the offensive continues, both parties, Brussels and kyiv, continue to activate stages in the process of accession of the former Soviet republic to the EU at an unusual speed compared to other cases. “We have taken another step on the road to the EU. The people of Ukraine are united to feel part of Europe. I am sure that we will achieve it”, declared the president of the country on Monday. “In extraordinary times, extraordinary steps are taken at an extraordinary speed”, declared, for his part, the EU ambassador in kyiv, Matti Maasikas, when collecting the document.
Not even two months have passed since Ukraine sent its formal request to join the EU, quite a challenge for Brussels in the current circumstances. But precisely for that reason, because of the cruelty of the Russian aggression against its immediate neighbor and the solidarity that the war has aroused, what other times has taken months to be processed by the bureaucratic machinery of the European network, now it is done in days or a little plus. “It will not be a matter of years, as usual, to form an opinion, but of weeks, I think,” Von der Leyen said of the Ukrainian request during his visit to kyiv together with the High Representative for EU Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell. , last April 8.
The German leader was referring to the opinion that the presiding body has to issue on Ukraine’s request, which is why she delivered the questionnaire that kyiv has filled out in 10 days. The document serves the European Commission to measure the preparation of a country and weigh whether or not it meets the requirements to obtain candidate status, something that is ultimately decided by the European Council. The first step, that of starting to prepare a reasoned opinion on admission, started much faster than in the case of other candidates. From the time President Zelensky signed the petition until the EU Council asked the Commission to issue his opinion, the first formal step in any accession process, only a week passed. Serbia had to wait almost a year for this procedure alone, and Albania, North Macedonia and Montenegro, several months.
In the community capital they are aware that an accession process is long, lasts years and implies that 35 chapters are negotiated with issues ranging from the free movement of goods to social rights or the environment. The Commission is also aware that there are Member States that want to prevent a repetition of cases such as those of Hungary or Poland, which once inside the community club have relaxed the quality of their rule of law and have adopted discriminatory and xenophobic policies that Brussels considers incompatible with the EU Treaty.
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France and also the Netherlands are in this position, where in 2016 a referendum was already called on an association agreement of the Union, precisely, with Ukraine and a majority voted against, although with very little participation. Among the most reluctant is added the fact that they do not want a repeat of a case like that of Turkey, a country that was granted candidate status in 1999 and with which 23 years later barely five chapters of the negotiation have been opened, what has become an ammunition used by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, against the internal pro-European opposition.
However, with the war underway and Russian bombs falling on Ukraine, the Commission has chosen not to cool down kyiv’s expectations now, being aware that when it gets down to the details there will be options to put the brakes on. Thus, it was a few words from the president of the Commission shortly after the invasion began that gave wings to the hopes of kyiv: “They are ours and we want them inside.” After this, the easternmost members of the community club, with Poland at the head, increased the pressure on the rest of the members to make an exception by opening the express route to the Ukrainian request.
But as was seen at the Versailles summit last March, there is more rejection of this path than is openly admitted. “There is no quick procedure,” the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, pointed out at the time, playing the traditional role of his unsympathetic and direct partner. He was not alone, Spain is also aligned in this position. As Croatia did, through the mouth of its prime minister, Andrej Plenkovic: “There is a protocol and some treaties.” And this carried over into the final declaration of the summit, which did not recognize Ukraine’s official candidate status, pouring cold water on kyiv’s aspirations and those who had encouraged them: EU leaders were open to deepening cooperation between the two parties until the moment of accession arrives.
The fast track for Ukraine not only raises suspicions —because of the democratic and anti-corruption standards it requires— in countries that are already members, but also among those who are candidates and those who are trying. In the western Balkans, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo (the last two are not even formal candidates) look askance at kyiv and Brussels after years of accumulating disappointments and good words in negotiations that are barely advancing.
Both due to the reticent position in some countries of the community club and due to the complexity of the negotiations for entry, there is no doubt that there are a series of objective difficulties for Ukraine to enter the EU on a fast track. Before starting to speak, the applicant must comply with the standards set in the so-called Copenhagen Criteria adopted in 1993: stable democracy, rule of law, market economy, acceptance of all EU legislation and that corresponding to the euro. From that moment on, a process begins that unfolds over 35 chapters of conversations.
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