The list of countries negotiating accession to the European Union could add two new candidates very soon. The European Commission opts for accepting the candidacy of Ukraine and, probably, that of Moldova, to start a rapprochement process that, in any case, would last for years or decades. This follows from the orientation debate held this Monday by the European commissioners under the presidency of Ursula von der Leyen. The deliberation, behind closed doors and of a very political nature, has been the previous step to the verdict that is expected this Friday on the application for admission presented in a hurry by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia after Russia’s attack on Ukrainian territory. The last word, in any case, lies with the heads of State and Government of the EU; the endorsement of the Community Executive is only the first necessary step to start the process.
Even so, the decision is so historic, delicate and with unforeseeable geostrategic consequences that Von der Leyen has preferred to take it in two stages, with a first session, held this Monday, to analyze the magnitude of the acceptance or rejection of the request, and a second, next Friday, in which a report favorable or contrary to the wishes of the three applicants for entry will be approved.
The European commissioners, according to the sources consulted, have addressed the debate on Ukraine’s candidacy “not only in terms of what it means for that country, but also what it implies for the current partners”. The debate has gone far beyond merely analyzing whether Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia meet the political, economic and institutional conditions required to be candidates. And the discussion has expanded to the impact that the opening of a new generalized enlargement similar to the big Bang 2004, when 10 countries joined at once, including eight from the former Soviet bloc.
The changes required for an extension of such magnitude, which could cover from Ukraine to the Balkans, would affect from the distribution of power within the club to the possible limitation of the number of European commissioners (an objective delayed for 20 years by the resistance of the smaller partners) to changes in the Common Agricultural Policy due to the incorporation of a power in the tertiary sector such as Ukraine.
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Brussels, for the moment, opts for a more modest project, at least in the short term. And according to the sources consulted, the majority of the European commissioners will support on Friday a report favorable to the candidacies of Ukraine and Moldova, leaving Georgia to wait. Sources aware of Monday’s meeting indicate that practically all of the commissioners have agreed with the decision to recognize the Ukrainian and Moldovan candidacies. The proposal also proposes setting “certain intermediate objectives”, a staggering of the future process that, according to the same sources, “does not excite the Ukrainians”. The possibility of leaving the Georgians behind also causes some resentment.
Geographical proximity to the EU works in favor of Ukraine and Moldova and to the detriment of Georgia. The first two countries, moreover, have rapidly strengthened ties with the Union as a result of the war, from their electricity grids, which have been integrated with the European one, to border surveillance, with Frontex European police agents in the Moldovan borders with Russia. Ukraine also has the powerful support of community partners such as Poland and the Baltic countries, and Moldova with that of Romania.
“Ukraine is the only country on the continent where they have killed people simply for carrying the European flag, we cannot tell them now that that was worthless,” says a senior community official in favor of the candidacy, referring to the deaths in 2014 during the pro-European revolts with the Maidan square in kyiv as the epicenter.
The opinion of the Commission is not binding because the last word corresponds to the member countries in the European Council, which will be held on June 23 and 24 in Brussels. But the orientation that comes out of the body chaired by Ursula von der Leyen will be decisive for the 27 EU countries to opt in one direction or another. “I hope that in 20 years, when we look back, we can say that we did the right thing,” von der Leyen said last Saturday during her second visit to kyiv since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Unanimity and reservations
Volodymyr Zelensky’s government submitted the application for EU membership on February 28, just four days after Russian tanks entered Ukrainian territory and began their advance on kyiv. On March 3, the Government of Moldova and Georgia followed in Zelensky’s footsteps, two countries that feel threatened by Moscow and that have already been attacked by Russia in some parts of their territories.
The 27 countries of the Union almost immediately asked the Commission to begin processing possible applications, a step that usually takes months or years to complete. And the cruising speed was maintained because on April 8, Von der Leyen arrived in the Ukrainian capital to deliver the Commission’s questionnaire that the Zelensky Executive had to fill out to substantiate the verdict on his aspirations. “Here begins your path to the European Union”, assured the President of the Commission when delivering the document.
But the road is still very complicated. The decisive stage will come at the European summit at the end of June, when the 27 should unanimously approve the acceptance of Ukraine as a candidate country to add it to the list that includes Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The approval is not guaranteed because several partners have serious reservations. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, also wants to propose a reform of the enlargement process to introduce new spheres of integration that represent a middle way with respect to full accession. It is a model in line with the proposal of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to create a European Political Community that covers from Oslo to Ankara.
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