On Friday, the European Commission will issue its recommendation on Ukraine’s candidacy for membership of the European Union, and is expected to be in favor of granting official status as a candidate country.
The opinion of the community executive will be adopted at the weekly meeting of the college of commissioners, which this week is held extraordinarily on Friday, and should be analyzed by the heads of state and government of the 27 as early as next week, at a European Council scheduled for 23 and 24 June in Brussels.
In addition to Ukraine’s candidacy, the European Commission should also issue recommendations regarding Georgia and Moldova, two countries that also feel particularly threatened by Russia, and which, shortly after Kiev, also presented their candidacy for membership of the European bloc.
Less than a week after the start of the Russian invasion, on 24 February, Ukraine formally presented its candidacy for accession, and, in early April, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, hand delivered, in Kiev, to President Volodymyr Zelensky the questionnaire that the Ukrainian authorities have in the meantime completed and sent to Brussels, now eagerly awaiting the European ‘verdict’.
Although, it seems, the European Commission’s recommendation should be for Ukraine to be officially granted candidate country status, in what is understood as a very strong sign of the EU’s commitment to a country that is struggling given its independence and sovereignty in the face of Russian military aggression, the issue is far from being consensual at the level of the Council, that is, among the 27 Member States, which have the final word, and unanimously.
Ukraine, however, today received a strong message of support from the leaders of the three EU member states with the strongest economies, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Head of Government Mario Draghi, to speak out in favor of being granted “immediate” candidate status during a joint visit to Kiev.
“This statute will be accompanied by a roadmap and will also take into account the situation in the Balkans and in the neighbourhood, in particular in Moldova”, specified Macron at a joint press conference, with the leaders also assuming that any accession process is time consuming, since it is “one way”, usually taking several years.
According to European sources, and because there are several countries that express reservations, the solution could be for the European Council next week to agree on granting candidate status to Ukraine but under conditions, eventually reinforcing the current Association Agreement in the meantime, to allow Ukrainians to gradually integrate into certain areas of Community policy, such as energy, defense and the internal market, without waiting for the end of the accession process.
On Tuesday, on the occasion of a trip to The Hague, Prime Minister António Costa insisted that what Ukraine needs most now is immediate and practical answers, not legal and legal questions related to the accession to the European bloc, necessarily slow, which can create frustration.
“We must be careful to avoid creating false expectations, because these frustrations have a very hard rebound effect on the European Union. Today, support for the EU in many of the countries of the Western Balkans is already much lower than it was, as a result of this frustration” , he stressed.
António Costa recalled that several countries in that region “have been admitted as candidates for years, and that, year after year, they see either that negotiations are not opened, or that negotiations are open and are frozen, or that it is never to results, and this is accumulating frustrations”.
The prime minister defended that “many things can be done without dividing the EU, and that is not a legal statute [de país candidato]the practical effects of which will only be seen much later”, and one of the possibilities he identified relates precisely to the Association Agreement between the Community bloc and Ukraine, which can be improved to allow, for example, freedom of movement, as well as lifting barriers to the movement of Ukrainian goods within the EU’s internal market.
“Instead of splitting up around legal issues and legal issues, it’s better to strengthen our unity in concrete answers to what Ukrainians and Ukraine need today, and that’s where we should focus.”
The EU, which currently has 27 member states – since the United Kingdom left last year – has granted candidate country status to Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, and has ongoing processes concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, which are considered as potential candidates, but in all cases, for different reasons, the processes have not seen developments in recent years.