Ukraine is applying for EU membership at a time when Russia has attacked it in a war of choice. The European Commission is expected to present its opinion on Ukraine’s application in mid-June, to be followed by a decision of the European Council on 23–24 June. While public opinion across the EU has turned largely supportive of membership for Ukraine, official positions remain divided between strong support, mainly in the Eastern member states, and a more reserved position elsewhere.
In this policy paper, Steven Blockmans and Kristi Raik make the case that the European Council should grant Ukraine a proper “candidate country” status in June and discuss ways to address the concerns about the readiness of Ukraine, the EU’s own absorption capacity and lessons learned from the Western Balkans. They argue that
- A clear membership perspective for Ukraine has become a geopolitical necessity. It can end the strategic ambiguity that made Ukraine vulnerable to Russia’s aspirations to re-establish its sphere of influence. It can also provide a strong signal that Russia’s aggression did not pay off.
- Ukraine is objectively qualified for candidate country status, given its years of progressive implementation of the 2014 Association Agreement, whose chapters are effectively the same as the accession procedures.
- The EU needs to develop a staged accession process to allow for progressive policy, financial and institutional integration of candidate countries with the EU. The new approach can tie candidate countries more firmly in genuine domestic reform processes.
- Revised enlargement procedures provide a way to embrace both the Western Balkans and East European applicants, thus converging these two regions together for the purpose of EU policies. This would be a major change of doctrine.
- A new European Geopolitical Community, proposed by European Council president Charles Michel, should be complementary to the process that leads to full EU membership, not an alternative to it. The new body could potentially embrace the whole of Europe excluding the dictatorships of Russia and Belarus.