Ukraine’s accession to the EU: these are the next steps

Von der Leyen again in Kyiv
Ukraine wants to join the European Union quickly – but these (many) steps still need to be taken

Blue-yellow talks in Kyiv: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyj

© Sergei Supinsky / AFP

There is no shortage of expressions of solidarity in Ukraine – but the leadership in Kyiv wants one thing above all: to join the EU quickly. But the country’s possible accession could take decades.

She hasn’t brought her membership certificate yet. And Ursula von der Leyen will probably not have her with her on her possible next visits to Kyiv either. But their renewed trip to the Ukrainian capital should above all be a signal: We know that you want to join the EU and we want to support you on this path. Or, as von der Leyen said in Kyiv: the purpose of their trip was to “take stock of the joint efforts required for reconstruction and of Ukraine’s progress on its European path”.

In the Ukrainian capital, the President of the EU Commission wants to talk to President Volodymyr Zelenskyj and Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal, among others. And in just two weeks, the EU Commission plans to present its assessment as to whether Ukraine should officially be considered a candidate for accession. But even then there are still many steps to be taken before the country can be admitted to the Confederation of States.

The EU accession process at a glance:

1. Application

Ukraine has already taken this step. In any case, joining the EU was the bloodily fought-for goal of many people in the country, and the president and government were also elected for this purpose – but after Russia’s attack on its neighboring country, which violated international law, everything happened very quickly. At the beginning of March, Ukraine submitted its application for membership to the Council of the EU, thereby setting in motion a complex process.

2. Requirements

Therefore, examine whoever binds forever. Although Brexit was the first breakaway state in the EU, membership is actually intended to be permanent. The requirements that every country that wants to join the EU must meet are correspondingly high: the so-called Copenhagen criteria, which have been in force since 1993 – a complicated set of rules with almost 10,000 words. According to the Federal Government, the core requirements are as follows:

  • Political criteria: stability, democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
  • Economic criterion: A functioning market economy and the ability to withstand the competitive pressure within the EU internal market.
  • Acquis criterion: The ability to take ownership of the obligations and objectives arising from EU membership, ie: adoption of the Community legal system, the “community acquis” (French “acquis communautaire”).

Each of these criteria hides a wealth of individual measures – under certain circumstances, an entire judicial system has to be rebuilt or the economy has to be put on a new footing. The task of the EU Commission, including Ursula von der Leyen, is in this step to “assess the country’s ability to meet the Copenhagen criteria,” as the European Commission puts it. Only when this is fulfilled and the Council of the European Union, i.e. all member states, unanimously agree on a negotiating mandate can the official accession negotiations with Ukraine begin. A number of EU countries, especially in Eastern Europe, support the Ukrainian application for membership. However, some countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and France are skeptical about the project. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has also been reluctant to comment on the subject.

3. Negotiations

The official negotiations comprise 36 chapters. It’s about the free movement of goods, capital and people, it’s about agriculture and food security, it’s about energy and science and much, much more.

“Because of the large amount of EU rules and regulations that each country has to transpose into its domestic law, the negotiations will take a long time to complete,” according to the EU Commission – and each member state must agree to each closed chapter individually. Years or even decades can pass before Ukraine becomes a member of the EU.

Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey are currently among the official accession candidates and have partly started to restructure their country and their economic and legal system in such a way that it is in line with the principles of the EU – and they are still a long way from the end Target.

4. Joining

When all chapters of the accession negotiations have been concluded, the accession treaty will be drawn up, but it still has to clear a few hurdles: the Council must agree, as must the EU Commission and the European Parliament. The treaty must then be ratified in all member states and in the candidate country, either by parliamentary vote or a referendum. The accession treaty then contains the date that everyone has been working towards: when the respective country will become a full member of the EU.

What is the future of Ukraine’s EU accession?

So it may be decades before Ukraine actually belongs to the European Union – because in a country at war it is more difficult to meet the conditions for EU membership. And yet – or precisely because of this – the Ukrainian President Zelenskyj is pushing for the speedy start of negotiations.

“A positive response from the European Union to Ukraine’s application for EU membership can be a positive answer to the question of whether there is any future for the European project at all,” he said during von der Leyen’s recent visit to Kyiv. Previously, he demanded that Ukraine must be “taken out of the gray area”. The EU has the opportunity to prove “that the words about the membership of the Ukrainian people in the European family were not spoken to the wind”. Zelenskyi asked: “Then why are there still political skeptics who hesitate to allow us to join the European Union?” Opponents of Ukraine joining the EU point to the state of war in the country as well as problems with corruption and unrealized reforms. “We must not lower the accession requirements in the EU. Otherwise we will kill the EU,” warns a diplomatic source from one of the hesitant countries in an interview with the AFP news agency. Diplomatic circles in Brussels also say that accession negotiations with Ukraine are currently “difficult to imagine”.

And yet: Ursula von der Leyen continues to give herself to the outside world. During her previous visit to Kyiv, she predicted a “European future” for Ukraine. On June 23rd and 24th, the Commission will probably decide how to proceed in terms of EU accession for Ukraine – and at some point the membership certificate will make its way to Kyiv.

Sources: European Commission (1), European Commission (2), federal governmentAFP news agency

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