EU officials warn Ukraine of 'no shortcuts' to Union membership

EU officials warn Ukraine of 'no shortcuts' to Union membership
European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen. Credit: Belga / Jonas Roosens

Ahead of an upcoming EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on Friday, with EU officials arriving in the embattled Ukrainian capital, European officials have warned against overpromising on Ukraine’s EU prospects.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Denys Shmyhal, has set an “ambitious” goal of joining the EU within two years, a goal which many within the EU consider impossible. Member States have warned that Kyiv should be made to understand that this goal is not achievable, nor desirable.

In June 2022, Ukraine, alongside neighbour Moldova, was given EU candidate status under an accelerated process. This marks a significant milestone in Ukraine’s painful extraction from the field of Russian influence and its slow path to European integration, reinitiated by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Uncertain timeframe

Joining the EU within the space of two years is almost inconceivable. Even under a “fast-tracked” process, Ukraine will need to align itself with 32 chapters, or 130,000 pages of the Acquis Communautaire during official accession negotiations. Turkey has had candidate status since 1999, but has only made agreements on one chapter of legislation in the space of 16 years.

In May 2022, French Europe Minister Clément Beaune warned that Ukraine’s EU bid would not be finalised for “15 to 20 years”, a sentiment echoed by several sceptics within the EU.

In an interview with the Kyiv Independent, Ukraine’s representative to the EU in Brussels claimed that Ukraine had already adapted 60-70% of the aquis throughout the EU-Ukraine association agreement.

If Ukraine succeeds in its application process, the country would be the poorest country in the EU with a GDP per capita of $4,872. For comparison, the EU’s poorest member state, Bulgaria, has more than double the GDP per capita at $11,683.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that the summit on Friday would be dedicated to European integration, as well as final decisions on EU commitments to support Ukraine in its defence against Russia.

In a comment to the BBC, unnamed EU diplomats warned that overpromising on timeframes for full membership could lead to disillusionment further down the line. Others stated that it was impossible to criticise Ukraine without accusations of treachery.

European integration

In terms of corruption, Ukraine still has work to do. Despite significant reforms to the judiciary in recent years, Transparency International still ranks Ukraine as the most corrupt country in Europe, after Russia. Ukraine’s oligarchs still remain problematic, with fresh corruption raids on Wednesday targeting Ukraine’s fourth-richest oligarch, Ihor Kolomoyskyi.

On Telegram, Shmyhal said that Ukraine was planning to implement all seven of the European Commission’s recommendations. This includes new measures to tackle corruption, money-laundering, as well as curbing the influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs.

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Despite tensions over the timeframe of Ukraine’s EU membership, the summit is expected to usher in a new level of cooperation between the two entities. The EU wants to show solidarity with Ukraine, emphasising European defiance against Russia’s invasion.

Holding the summit in Kyiv is significant. Just a year ago, it seemed likely that Russian forces would encircle the Ukrainian capital. Ultimately, this did not occur, with Ukrainian forces expelling Russian forces from the Kyiv region by the end of March.

The EU is set to announce that it will double the number of Ukrainian troops it is planning to train to 30,000, and allocate an additional €25 million towards the demining of territory taken back from the Russian army.

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