GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 638, 26 June 2022

Europe: Approving Ukraine's candidature for the EU
Padmashree Anandhan

What happened?
On 23 June, the European Parliament adopted a resolution to grant "EU candidate status" to Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova without further delay. It also stated on providing the same to Georgia on fulfilling the priorities listed by the European Commission.

According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: "Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia share the strong and legitimate aspiration of joining the European Union. Today, we are sending them a clear signal of support in their aspirations, even as they face challenging circumstances. And we do so standing firm on our European values and standards, setting out the path they need to follow in order to join the EU."

Upon the announcement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the European leaders and said: "This is the greatest step towards strengthening Europe that could be taken right now, in our time, and precisely in the context of Russia's war, which is testing our ability to preserve freedom and unity." Moldovan President Maia Sandu tweeted: "strong signal of support for Moldova and our citizens."

On 24 June, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: "The EU is not a political bloc like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The development of its relations with any willing countries does not create threats or risks for us."

What is the background?
First, Ukraine's request to be a part of the EU. Through the candidate status, the EU will now be involved in the rule of law, economic, political decisions of Ukraine. However, the candidacy status is not sufficient to prevent a future invasion. The upcoming accession process of the EU involves Ukraine adopting the laws and regulations of the EU which are viewed as "powerful policy tools." Post the integration of laws, the EU council and parliament will ratify the treaty of accession.

Second, Russia's opposition. Ukraine's acceptance into the EU is less significant for Russia as it is only keen on keeping it away from NATO. The EU widely focuses on politics, economy, and society. NATO, on the other hand, is a military alliance. The EU has Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), for its military exercises, but neither supersedes nor NATO will engage. EU's intervention in the economic and political front is not a risk for Russia as it only fears military cooperation. Therefore, from Russia's point, the threat factor remains low on Ukraine joining the EU.

Third, Georgia's candidate status. Russia's invasion of Ukraine provoked Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia to submit their applications to join the EU. While Ukraine and Moldova were accepted by the European Commission after approving the state of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, macroeconomic resilience and financial stability with an exception to bring induce more economic reforms. Georgia's application has been held from getting the candidate status as it lacked in reforms towards its market economy, especially in human capital, labour market, infrastructure, and renewable energy generation. The benchmarks are set to check its competitiveness in the EU market.

Fourth, criticism from EU-recognized countries. The EU has recognized five countries: Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. Of these countries, only North Macedonia and Serbia have progressed up the negotiation line and the remaining countries' negotiation processes have been paused since 2020. Pointing to the slow nature of the EU in processing their membership, the western Balkan states have raised concerns and criticized the EU to speed up keeping the Russian threat in front.

What does it mean?
First, for Ukraine and Moldova, gaining the candidate status means a correction path to streamline the corruption issues, shape society, judicial reforms, pursue European objectives, and, most importantly marking its sovereign boundary. Although candidates' status will open the door for Ukraine to relook into its economic and political process, the steps to accession will be the real trouble. Till now the minimal time taken by the EU to grant the membership has been three to five years, therefore Ukraine and Moldova will continue to face Russia on the ground but with renewed support from the EU.

Second, the EU will face a serious set of challenges on two fronts. One, with an economy recovering from the pandemic, increased military expenditure for Ukraine, ongoing energy crisis, and inflation, the EU need to be tactical in transforming Ukraine and the Balkans in their accession process. Two, the existing member states oppose the membership of certain countries such as Hungary and Poland because of the decline in rule of law, as they fear the implications of migrant labour on the EU's finance and identity, and limitations in instilling democracy during the accession process. 

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