At the visit of EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrel in Kyiv to meet the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, she made a passionate speech about the various types of support the EU and European countries are offering his country.
Ukraine’s application to join the EU and NATO
Within Zelenskyy’s speech he declared:
“We have chosen Europe as our direction… Europe is not somewhere else. Europe is here in our mind. And when Europe is in our mind, then Europe will come to our country too.”
Regarding Zelenskyy’s application to join the EU, von der Leyen said:
“We are with you as you dream of Europe.”
She informed Zelenskyy that the EU would be at Ukraine’s ‘disposal’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Von der Leyen described the country as a ‘friend’ that has the same values as the EU. For that reason, and due to the current situation, the EU will speed the membership process up.
The process of becoming a member of the European Union is called accession.
She told him:
“Today, more than ever, Europe is here. Europe is with you.”
Do Ukrainians support joining the EU?
At the end of March, just over 90 percent of Ukrainians voiced support for joining the EU, but over the past years this number has remained about 60 percent. Currently, about 68 percent of citizens would support joining NATO.
To try to understand what could be in the questionnaire, in the envelope von der Leyen handed Zelenskyy, it is important to look at what the conditions are that accession countries have to comply with to become an EU member state. I think Ukraine has been accepted as a candidate country.
Accession criteria for EU membership
The accession criteria are also called Copenhagen criteria after the 1993 European Council meeting in Copenhagen where they were concluded. There are essential conditions, which all candidate countries must satisfy to become a member state.
- Political: the nation’s institutions must respect and protect democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and minority groups.
- Economic: a stable market economy which ensures the nation’s ability to cope with competition.
- Administrative and institutional: the capacity to effectively implement the so-called acquis. The acquis is the body of common rights and obligations which all countries are required to and bind themselves to before becoming members of the EU. It is rare for exceptions to be granted.
By the date of accession, countries must have not only signed up to the acquis, they must have incorporated the obligations (which must always be followed) into their national legal system.
In addition, the EU must have the capacity to absorb new members, while continuing the process of European integration. The EU has the right to decide when and whether a candidate country has met the criteria for membership. They also reserve the right to decide when the EU itself is ready to accept the new member.
The journey to EU membership
There are a series of steps to becoming a member of the EU.
Step one: once an applicant country has complied with the accession criteria, member states can agree to open, which conclude with a draft accession treaty.
Step two: an accession treaty which sets out the terms and conditions of membership, any required transition period and what adjustments are needed to the EU treaties.
Some of the items in an accession treaty might concern
- Free movement of capital
- Company law
- Intellectual property law
- Information society and media
- Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy
- Enterprise and industrial policy
- Trans-European networks
- Consumer and health protection
- Financial control
- Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments
- Economic and monetary policy
- Financial and budgetary provisions
Step three: the accession treaty has to be approved unanimously by the council, by majority assent in the European parliament, and then ratified by the existing member states and the acceding country.
One example of the often-lengthy process of EU accession is Turkey. Despite the fact that the UK was one of the EU countries most in favour of Turkey’s accession, the Leave campaign used the prospect of Turkey joining as one of the ‘threats’ of remaining in the EU.
Turkey applied to join the then European Economic Community in 1987. In 1999 the EU declared it eligible to join the EU and became a candidate country. Accession negotiations started in 2005, but until Turkey agrees to the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus, eight negotiation chapters will not be opened.
Although Turkey applied to join in 1987, their involvement with Europe began in 1959. The Ankara Association Agreement, signed in 1963 but set up in 1995, provided the structure for cooperation between the EU and Turkey.
There have been obstacles to Turkey’s membership, namely their inability to completelyimplement and respect democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. In 2016 there were a series of benchmarks which Turkey had not reached, and by June 2018 the General Affairs Council decided to freeze negotiations with the country.
Ukraine is being run into the ground by the Russian invasion and aggression. What the country will look like when the horrific war is finally at an end is hard to foretell.
The EU has promised to assist in the rebuilding process of Ukraine. It offers it special status and von der Leyen implied in her speech that EU membership is an objective that can become reality in the very near future.
Considering the above listed accession criteria, let us hope that Ukraine will be in a state to implement enough of the acquis to become a fully fledged EU member state.