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Can Ukraine join the EU? A moment of decision

29 May 2022, 18-19

Executive Summary

On February 28, Ukrainian President Zelensky officially applied for EU membership, four days after Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine had begun. As Ukraine fought for its survival, defending the values of democratic Europe, its president explained: “Today I signed the application for Ukraine's membership in the European Union. I'm sure it's feasible.”  Is it? Will 27 EU members support it? Will Germany? Does Germany even have a special responsibility? This is a moment of momentous decisions. At the next European Council meeting in June, EU member states must decide whether to grant Ukraine ‘candidate status’. If they do, they must decide what this means: to begin accession talks, in the middle of an ongoing war? To push Ukraine back? This was the theme of the discussion on Ukraine and EU enlargement. And how about Moldova? How about the Western Balkans? For this discussion we were joined by Gerald Knaus, chairman of the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a Berlin based think tank. ESI has worked on EU enlargement policies for many years. Having lived and taught at university in Ukraine, Gerald Knaus has recently made concrete proposals on how the EU could respond to its European aspirations.


Policy Proposals

1) There are diverging views on the prospects for granting Ukraine EU candidate status Among the EU member states, there are three categories of groups with differing opinions on Ukraine and possible candidate status

  1. Ukraine must get candidate status now

  2. What about the balkans - they are just as important and further in the accession process

  3. The EU cannot absorb new members 


2) EU candidate status will have a large symbolic effect

  • If, at the European Council meeting in June 2022, Ukraine is not granted candidate status, it will send a disastrous symbol - to Ukraine and to Moscow.

  • If candidate status is given, this also represents risks: Like in Macedonia, who has been a candidate country since 2005, have not started accession talks.


3) There is a need for a new Treaty of Rome creating a European Economic Commmunity

  • In 1990, Jacquese Delors proposed that candidate countries should already be able to enjoy the four freedoms for democracies: people, goods services, capital. This was the FinnishNorwegian-Austrian road to the EU.

  • This would offer a two step integration process: offer Ukraine full access to the single market after giving it candidate status in June. 

  • This also allows the EU more time to figure out how to reform itself about how new members are admitted. 

  • The access to the single market for Ukraine would take a few years, and be a great powerful signal to Ukrainans and business.

  • This proposal would allow the EU promise p serious and binding: EU opens talks with Ukraine and others to join a new European Economic Community. This would take one single vote in the European Council. 

  • The Chamber of Commerce of Serbia has already shown interest: “the EU needs to offer a new way through immediate creation of a European economic community…”

  • The Treaty of Rome in 1957 was a bold and robust vision, and is still alive, and should be repeated. 

  • The Czech presidency would be perfectly placed to lead the negotiations on a second treaty of Rome.

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