The buzz in Europe’s halls of power over Ukraine’s EU bid

Relying on the help of its allies and partners, Ukraine has proven remarkably resilient as Russia’s war enters its fourth month. But short-term military assistance is one thing, and long-term political support is another.

As kyiv holds back Kremlin troops on the battlefield, attention is increasingly turning to its European Union (EU) bid, submitted just days after the Russian invasion began. On May 30-31, a special meeting of the European Council will focus on war-related issues, followed by a summit next month where EU member states are expected to discuss kyiv’s potential membership in the block.

From Paris to Warsaw, Atlantic Council pundits have been on the lookout for chatter in European capitals about whether Ukraine stands a chance of joining this elite club of nations.

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The buzz in Paris: Thinking realistically?

To say the least, French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent proposal to create a “European political community” has aroused mixed feelings across Europe (including in Ukraine), mainly because it is seen as an alternative to Ukraine’s EU membership.

Several reasons motivate Macron’s thinking. First, France is careful not to deceive Ukraine by making promises that EU member states cannot keep. The risk of being counterproductive here is great: there is a strong political will in Ukraine to join the bloc, and falsely promising rapid membership risks undermining this aspiration in the years to come, as the path to membership is necessarily long.

Second, France, like many other European countries, is well aware that this process is indeed long and demanding, and that there is no appetite in Paris to speed it up. This is especially true if one considers that the six Western Balkan countries are also at various stages of candidacy, that Ukraine has yet to implement difficult but necessary reforms and that the EU itself has not the ability to absorb a new member without internal reform of its own.

The proposal for a European political community offers concrete and more immediate benefits through closer cooperation with bloc members. This may include greater political coordination with the EU and/or deepening economic ties, thus facilitating the achievement of the objectives of the accession process alongside existing EU structures. Therefore, this community is meant to be complementary – not an alternative – to EU membership.

Mary Jordan is visiting researcher at the European Center of the Atlantic Council.

The buzz in Berlin: managing expectations

Media coverage of the upcoming special European Council meeting will likely focus on whether Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will be able to omit mention of the sixth sanctions package against Russia in the final statement. Less noticeable will be the lack of any movement on whether Ukraine will soon gain candidate status for EU membership. This question will simply be “considered” at the June 23-24 summit.

On this point, the German government has increasingly tried to manage Ukrainian expectations. During the first weeks and months of Russia’s war on Ukraine, policymakers, like many of their EU colleagues, seemed reluctant to address the likelihood head-on, even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for “immediate membership”. True to Germany’s emphasis on the internal market as the heart of the EU, many simply pointed to the complexity of meeting the technical membership requirements as a way of hinting at a ‘no’ to rapid progress.

Following President Macron’s speech, German leaders seem to have changed gears. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock made it clear during her May 10 visit to Kyiv that there can be ‘no shortcuts’ to membership and that the EU should make ‘no false promises’ , even though “Ukraine is an integral part of Europe”. In his immediate reaction to Macron’s proposal for a “European political community”, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz cautiously welcomed the initiative, but also rejected kyiv’s acceleration and insisted that Western Balkan countries should not are not bypassed on their way to full membership. Anything but explicitly spoken by Scholz: Ukraine should not hold its breath expecting rapid progress towards full membership.

Jorn Fleck is the Deputy Director of the Europe Center.

The buzz in Warsaw: Personal interests

As a country that has played a leading role in assisting Ukraine and hosting more than 3.5 million refugees, Poland has often spoken of the need to make another war like this impossible. this. Warsaw sees EU enlargement as a method to fend off Russian imperialism and opposes any kind of “permanent waiting room” for Ukraine, or some sort of “EU-lite” solution. Ultimately, Poland supports Ukraine’s NATO membership and sees the EU as another step towards Ukraine’s integration into the West.

When Polish President Andrzej Duda addressed the Ukrainian parliament this week, he made a clear statement: “Personally, he will not rest until Ukraine becomes a member of the European Union in the full sense of the word.” He went on to express support for “an express lane for Ukraine’s EU membership” and that Ukraine should have access to EU funds for reconstruction.

It was not the first time the idea had been floated by Polish officials. Already at the beginning of March, the lower house of the Polish parliament adopted a resolution calling on Ukraine to receive candidate status and to prepare a roadmap for the accession negotiations.

Despite the political polarization in Poland, the issue of Ukraine’s potential EU membership seems to garner broad public support, even from opponents of the current government. The reasons for this are simple: Poland considers a stable, Western-oriented Ukraine to be vital to its national security interests, especially given the many problems it has faced recently with the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka in neighboring Belarus. The current Polish government also sees it as an opportunity for Warsaw to play a leading role in the region and to improve its position within the EU itself.

Aaron Korewa is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Warsaw office.

The buzz in Prague: common cause

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine should be seen as part of a broader Kremlin attack on EU enlargement. For this reason, it is essential that the bloc keep its door open to Ukraine. History indicates that Vladimir Putin’s Russia will always be tempted to fill its periphery with proxies. EU enlargement, even beyond Ukraine, is also about containing Moscow’s imperial greed.

At this week’s special meeting, the European Council is expected to deal with Ukraine’s reconstruction and does not yet aim to discuss the country’s future with the EU. But the two subjects are linked: if Europe is about to invest in Ukraine on such a scale, it is better to do so within the framework of a possible accession of Ukraine in order to guarantee that European funds will be correctly allocated.

If all goes well, the European Council will discuss the status of Ukraine’s candidacy in June. It’s no secret that not all EU member states are fully on board yet; on the contrary, those who suffered under the Soviet yoke and who have a better understanding of Russia’s policies are those who most support Ukraine’s ambitions. That’s why it’s up to them to convince others. It’s about keeping the door open and not giving in to Putin’s pressure, knowing that the path to full EU membership would be a long and open process.

petr tuma is a visiting researcher at the Center for Europe.

London Buzz: The Limits of Friendship

In terms of military aid and intelligence support, Ukraine’s biggest European backer has been the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has become something of a folk hero in Ukraine, much to the surprise of most of his countrymen.

But when it comes to helping achieve what Ukraine really wants geopolitically, post-Brexit Britain isn’t exactly helpful: standing outside the EU, it’s in the delicate position of wanting Kyiv to join a club which they have now left, having abdicated all influence over the membership process. While the crisis in Ukraine has above all revealed Britain’s ability to act and still influence the European security order, the question of Ukraine’s ultimate aspiration clearly shows its limits.

Yet the futures of London and kyiv are linked. Macron’s “European political community”, open to countries that have both left the EU and countries that he says will take decades to join, is aimed at Britain and Ukraine respectively. Whether the two countries, which have aided each other in preparing for war for mutual strategic benefit, will be able to jointly respond to such an overture – or present their own visions – will be a matter to watch. These big questions have indeed already been debated (if only vaguely) by British and Ukrainian officials.

Ben Judah is a senior researcher at the Europe Center.

Further reading

Associate specialists:
Mary Jordan,
Jorn Fleck,
Aaron Korewa,
petr tumaand
Ben Judah

Image: Ukrainian and European flags in front of the Kharkiv regional government headquarters in central Kharkiv. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, unleashing the largest military attack in Europe since World War II. Photo via Aziz Karimov/SOPA Images/Sipa USA and Reuters.

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