When and how can Ukraine join the EU?

An EU summit on Thursday and Friday will decide whether Ukraine and Moldova become official candidates for EU membership, after the EU Commission recommended granting the two countries candidate status. Just before the summit starts meetings will take place with the heads of state and government of the Western Balkan countries. Europe's press examines in what form and at what pace EU enlargement should take place.

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Kommersant (RU) /

Even long-term candidacies have their advantages

Political scientist Sergei Utkin points out in Kommersant that EU accessions generally take a long time:

“No one in the EU can say when even one of these countries will become a fully-fledged member - the previous rounds of enlargement created a noticeable sense of fatigue and a pile of problems that had to be sorted out first. ... Based on the examples of many other countries, for a country like Ukraine accession to the EU could take decades even under the most favourable circumstances ... But to write off candidate status as a mere formality without any practical benefit would be an oversimplification, because a candidate country gains advantages simply by adapting its laws and standards to EU norms.”

G4Media.ro (RO) /

Republic of Moldova asks for chance to be hopeful

The President of the Republic of Moldova, Maia Sandu, has advocated EU candidate status for her country in several media. In G4Media.ro she points out that one in three Moldovans is already an EU citizen and studies or works within the bloc:

“You have probably already met us - we are your bank employee, your nurse, your child's classmate. Moldovans live side by side with Europeans, contribute to the social security system, pay taxes and enrich the EU's cultural heritage. ... We're not asking for shortcuts and we don't expect concessions. In these difficult times, Moldova is only asking for an opportunity to give its citizens hope. Hope that a safer, more democratic and more peaceful Moldova is still possible.”

Népszava (HU) /

How can the EU prevent blackmail?

Important EU decisions are all too often thwarted by individual member states, analyses Népszava:

“The EU lacks the legal instruments it needs. It can only react to blackmail with blackmail. The freezing of EU funds is one such measure. It worked with the Polish leadership, but Viktor Orbán has remained stubborn. ... For geopolitical reasons, the EU now wants to open its doors to states that are in the worst possible way in terms of democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, however, the EU lacks the means to prevent the systematic dismantling of the rule of law in its member states. In the end, it will have to find a solution. Let us hope that the price will not be a Huxit.”

Ouest-France (FR) /

Be careful, but don't wait too long

Michel Ferron, president of the French Maisons de l'Europe, criticises in Ouest France the fact that fast-tracked accession has been ruled out so far:

“Given the urgent circumstances this inflexibility will seem intolerable to many citizens, and will do nothing to reconcile them with what they see as the opaque and distant EU institutions. And this at a time when there is a need to send a strong signal to imperialist Russia. As far as the balance of power between the blocs is concerned, the EU must clearly also factor in the risk of political imbalance that a hasty acceptance of Ukraine's application would bring. Putin (tacitly supported by China) would see this as a real provocation.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Prepare for a major shift

The EU must prepare itself for such momentous change, Rzeczpospolita stresses:

“Despite the major enlargement of 2004 there is clearly a preponderance of Western European member states in the EU: the countries in that part of Europe are more influential, and most high-ranking officials in the EU institutions come from there. Ukraine's accession would lead to a shift in the balance. It is larger than Poland and lies directly in Russia's shadow. It is also very poor, which would force the EU to alter its generous agricultural and cohesion policies. So clearly the community must first change itself before Ukraine can be allowed to join.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

A multi-speed Europe

It's time to say out loud what no one else dares to admit, the Kleine Zeitung writes:

“The old member states' radical differences with Hungary and Poland mark a deep cultural and political divide between East and West, a fundamental disagreement concerning the rule of law, democracy, the separation of powers and national identity. There is a real danger that the EU will become a victim of its self-image as a normative project aimed at creating a unified area of freedom, security and justice that is in principle open to every country. ... Even if no one says it out loud: a growing EU only has a future as a multi-speed Europe. Anything else would be fatal.”

Magyar Hírlap (HU) /

The Western Balkans must not be snubbed

Other countries have higher priority, warns Magyar Hírlap:

“If there is talk of Ukraine joining the EU, the ambitions of the Western Balkan countries and Turkey, which have been in the queue for years or even decades, should also be taken into account. ... It would be unacceptable for Brussels to snub the Western Balkans in this way. ... In the Western European press one reads that the Western Balkan states are making little progress in terms of the reforms expected by Brussels. But if the prospect of accession is receding into the distance, then this is hardly surprising. Moreover, the Western Balkans region is very important for the EU geopolitically.”

Delfi (LT) /

The Euromaidan was the turning point

The path that was embarked on in 2013 and which led to the Euromaidan protests should now be followed through to the end, advises Delfi:

“If Kyiv can be admitted to the EU quickly and without long discussions, a logical consequence of the Euromaidan would be achieved. The Ukrainian Euromaidan was the turning point, the driving force that turned Putin into Putler. Back then, not so long ago in fact, Putin was cautiously toying with the idea of joining the EU. He eyed Nato membership with fearful interest. But then the Ukrainians chased away CPSU member Yanukovych and started to design a European Ukraine. At precisely that moment Putin's transformation began, like a werewolf in a horror film.”

Népszava (HU) /

No departure from fundamental EU principles

Even if Ukraine and Moldova are granted EU candidate status core issues must be taken into account, warns Népszava:

“Regardless of the current extraordinary procedure, the new candidates must also fulfil all admission criteria. This includes the obligatory clarification of border disputes, since large areas of both Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova are occupied by Russian troops. ... As the examples of Hungary and Poland show, there is also the danger that enlargement could further erode fundamental European principles such as the rule of law and democracy. Since the new candidates are states that have no democratic tradition, the EU must proceed with caution to ensure it doesn't disintegrate.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

The process could also be quick

It is quite possible that Ukraine will be able to meet the requirements for becoming a new EU member within a short time, Handelsblatt points out:

“Just as the Ukrainians are now fighting against an external enemy, they will also have to fight against internal threats to protect their future. They must disempower the oligarchs, whose wealth still gives them far too much influence over the state. They must prevent corruption and strengthen the rule of law. Something like this can take many years, and there can be setbacks. But it can also be done quickly if the people are determined and motivated. And this can hardly be denied in the case of the Ukrainians. The EU should set aside its doubts and grant Ukraine candidate status rather than slowing it down.”

Onet.pl (PL) /

Rejecting Georgia is dangerous

Onet criticises the EU Commission for not recommending candidate status for Georgia:

“The fact that Georgia has not been granted EU candidate status is a historic mistake. If Russia's war in Ukraine is not sufficient proof that Putin only understands the power of political facts, what is? If the European Council doesn't grant Georgia candidate status, the decision will be interpreted in the Kremlin as: 'the door is open in the Caucasus and we have a free hand'. That could lead to an escalation of the war, this time in the Caucasus. Is it in the West's interest to gradually hand over control of the Black Sea basin to Putin step by step?”

Berlingske (DK) /

On the fast track

Berlingske lists the reservations about Ukraine joining the EU:

“The war will prevent normal development and reforms for many years. There are countries like Denmark that fear that the war will give Ukraine an undeservedly quick EU accession. Some fear that reason will give way to emotionalism, and that in six months Ukraine will be put on the fast track based on sympathy, with all the consequences this would entail. Ukraine will be one of the largest countries to be integrated into the EU.”

De Standaard (BE) /

A no would be heartless and ungrateful

De Standaard sees far more arguments in favour of Ukraine being given EU candidate status already:

“Slamming Europe's door in their faces would almost be an act of heartless ingratitude which the Ukrainians would never forgive us for. But the one who would be delighted to see Ukraine receive another injury and Europe divided by a dispute is Vladimir Putin. ... Moscow can only dream of a situation in which President Zelensky, the Ukrainian civilian resistance and the Ukrainian army have to deal with an unexpected moral setback. Europe can really only take this historic decision with a generous heart and welcome Ukraine into the family.”

The Conversation (FR) /

A disastrous weakening of the community

Letting Ukraine into the EU's antechamber along with eight other states would be a fatal move, political scientist Mario Telo warns in The Conversation France:

“According to many observers and no doubt many citizens, the admission of nine more states would lead to a paralysis of the EU institutions, especially in foreign policy, which is decided unanimously. ... Adding nine countries (including Serbia, which is particularly close to Russia), any one of which could oppose joint decisions depending on the occasion, seems to run counter to the urgent need for a more efficient and stronger foreign policy. And the same goes for defence policy.”

The Economist (GB) /

Symbolism matters

The issue right now is candidate status, not membership, The Economist reminds its readers:

“The fainthearted will object, saying that Ukraine is too poor, too corrupt and now too war-torn to join the cosy club. That is true, but it misses the point. No one imagines that Ukraine will be ready to become a member for many years yet. It will have plenty of hoops to jump through before that can or should happen. If Ukraine does not make sufficient progress, it should not be admitted. The progression from candidate to member is by no means inexorable: Turkey has been in the queue since 1987. ... The symbolism of such a statement is huge.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Many sceptical about fast-track accession

The EU will face a new test, La Stampa predicts:

“On the one hand, there are the supporters of rapid accession - first and foremost Poland and the Baltic republics - and on the other, those who believe that the accession phases should be the same for everyone, without exception. France has said this clearly, and Clément Beaune, the recently appointed Minister for European Affairs, reiterated it yesterday. Others, when asked, have also said this - the Netherlands and Denmark, for example. Yesterday, Germany also officially sided with France. Macron is trying to reassure his Western allies but at the same time not let the thin thread of dialogue with Putin break.”

România Curată (RO) /

An urgently need anchor

It would make sense for the EU to invite Ukraine as well as the Republic of Moldova and Georgia to join now, writes political scientist Alina Mungiu-Pippidi in România Curată:

“I believe that the EU is wasting time by exchanging questionnaires with Moldova and Ukraine (and Georgia). Zelensky is not right when he says that we hesitate because of the Russian lobby, but he is right in saying that an immediate invitation is the only thing we can do. ... We should invite all three into the EU, as was once done with Romania and Bulgaria, which were facing the threat of nationalism at the time. ... Such an invitation is a political and economic anchor without which the drifting away and the panic cannot be avoided.”

eldiario.es (ES) /

Step by step

Like Macron, Spanish politician Ramón Jáuregui makes the case in eldiario.es for the creation of a sort of antechamber to the EU:

“Ukraine must either become European or it will cease to exist. The accession process will take a very, very long time. ... Moldova and Georgia are in the same process. ... Europe must keep an eye on the future of these countries because its relations with its neighbours and geopolitical influence are at stake. However this cannot be done at the price of scaling back our demands. ... We only need recall the difficulties resulting from the massive integration of the Eastern European countries. ... For all these reasons it makes sense to think of a European political community that integrates all those countries in the process of accession.”

Observador (PT) /

Don't demotivate potential candidates

The EU should provide more support to non-EU countries that are important to it, demands economist and former member of the Portuguese parliament Inês Domingos in Observador:

“Given the urgency for Ukraine, it makes sense to strengthen economic relations and institutional and financial support programmes in neighbouring countries that are of strategic importance to the European Union. ... Firstly because, given the risk of growing conflicts in the East, it is a priority for security reasons to support the weaker democracies on our doorstep. But also because an excessively speedy accession process risks demotivating current and potential candidates, and that could be counterproductive to the reforms we are trying to promote.”