Europe: Brussels accepts Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU but demands major democratic reforms from Zelensky | International
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The future Ukraine, in peace and with a State according to Western democratic standards, will have a place in the European Union, according to the recommendation approved this Friday by the European Commission. The body chaired by Ursula von der Leyen concludes that the country’s candidacy for entry into the community club must be accepted, a decision that European leaders must make at next week’s summit. In return, Brussels demands from the Government of Volodímir Zelenski a series of reforms so profound that, if carried out, they will transform the country and definitively distance it from Russia. Only then can accession negotiations begin, which is the next step towards the EU. Moldova, which has slipped behind kyiv, also gets recognition for its membership bid, while Georgia drops out of the pack and will have to settle for a vague promise that its aspirations for the future will be taken into account.
“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated its aspiration and determination to adapt to the EU,” said Von der Leyen after the three reports on Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia were approved. In the case of Ukraine, the Commission recommends that the European Council recognize Zelensky’s country with a European perspective and grant it candidate status for EU membership.
The Kremlin has warned this Friday that it will closely monitor Ukraine’s candidacy to join the European Union because it considers that the community bloc is transforming into a military platform. “[La adhesión] it is a different plane, but it requires our full attention because we know that discussions on strengthening the defense of the European Union are intensifying,” said Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, reports Javier G. Cuesta from Moscow.
Von der Leyen, dressed in a blue blouse and yellow jacket, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, has assured that her verdicts come after “a very careful analysis of the merits” of each applicant. And that compliance with the political and economic criteria required to apply to join the EU has been carefully examined, as well as the ability of each country to comply with the legislation developed by the community club over more than 70 years.
Resistance from the Netherlands, Austria and Portugal
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The recognition of the candidacy received this Thursday the support of Germany, France and Italy, whose leaders staged their support during a meeting with Zelensky in kyiv. But this first step towards a distant accession causes some resistance in partners such as the Netherlands, Austria or Portugal. In some cases, because they consider that the country is not at all ready to enter the orbit of the EU, and, in others, because they are afraid of encouraging false hope in the Ukrainian population that will lead to frustration over time, as has happened in Turkey.
The government most feared by Brussels is that of the Dutchman Mark Rutte, clearly opposed to a firm commitment to the community vocation of kyiv. The Netherlands even rejected in a consultative referendum in 2016, two years after the first Russian aggression against Ukrainian territory, the ratification of the EU association agreement with Ukraine. This Friday, the Dutch Foreign Minister, Wopke Hoekstra, however, assured that his country will support the granting of candidate status to Ukraine. “We have to take into account what is happening in Europe and the world,” he said.
Brussels trusts, however, that unanimity of the 27 will be achieved during the European Council on June 23 and 24 and, to facilitate the agreement, has made the opening of negotiations subject to the conclusion of a series of reforms that may take months or years and that depend, in large part, on the end of the war launched by the Kremlin and the degree of devastation it leaves behind. The list includes measures in the judicial field (such as completing the number of magistrates of the Constitutional Court and the General Council of the Judiciary), in the fight against corruption (establishing fully operational bodies) and strictly applying the law approved to control criminals. oligarchs. The Commission also requires guarantees of respect for the rights of minorities (an essential point for the important Russophone community in the country).
Von der Leyen has assured that he discussed all these reforms with the Ukrainian government during his recent visit to kyiv. And that Zelensky assured him that all these reforms are essential, even if he had not applied to join the EU.
Still, the summit is anticipated to be tense and difficult because Zelensky’s reward will force him to gesture toward other hopefuls for membership. On the one hand, the recognition of Moldova’s candidacy and the granting of a European perspective to Georgia. And on the other hand, a boost to the accession negotiations with the Balkan countries, Albania and North Macedonia, which have not even managed to start them. “Without a doubt, today is a historic day for the peoples of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia,” said Von der Leyen. “We are confirming that they belong, in due course, to the European Union”, added the president of the community body.
But the jackpot goes to Zelensky without a doubt. The war launched by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has led to the strengthening of a national consciousness in Ukraine as few times in the country’s history. And Brussels wants peace, when it comes, to materialize that rebirth in the form of a State free of the scourges and shortcomings accumulated under the tutelage of Moscow, such as corruption, the excessive power of the oligarchs or the fragility of a State of law almost shattered.
A step more symbolic than real
Starting today, the new Ukraine has the endorsement of the European Commission for its candidacy for EU membership, a first step that is more symbolic than real, but transcendental for a country in need of hope in the midst of Russian aggression that has already taken a part of the territory.
The war in the east of the country is causing about 100 deaths and up to 300 wounded on the Ukrainian side every day, according to unofficial estimates handled by the US. And, according to military experts, the level of attrition, also on the Russian side, reaches similar heights to those of World War I, one of the most brutal and insane conflicts in human history, which cost the lives of nine million people.
From the hecatomb of the two world wars emerged a prosperous Europe protected by Washington. Brussels aspires to play the same role with a Ukraine whose reconstruction will require a huge international economic effort, above all, by the EU. The prospect of a future accession to the club, albeit in the very long term, may serve as an incentive for a Ukrainian population relentlessly beaten by Russia since 2014.
But the approval of the Commission is more a starting point than a goal. Recognition is not a legal status, just a political label. And the next, truly significant, step is the start of accession negotiations, but the Commission is making it conditional on kyiv’s compliance with a long and complicated string of reforms.
Community sources estimate that Ukraine will take years to be in a position to start negotiations, a stage in which there are already five other candidates (Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) although none of them have made significant progress.
Unfinished business from Ukraine
Ukraine starts from a political, social and economic situation far removed from European standards. Its Gross Domestic Product, $4,800 in 2021, is half that of Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest partner. And Zelensky’s country is at the bottom in almost all the classifications on democratic quality, freedoms and the rule of law: from Transparency International’s on corruption, where it appears in position 122 out of 180 countries, to that of the US Freedom House center UU, which qualifies Ukraine as “partially free” or ILGA-Europe on respect for the rights of the LGTBI community, where it appears in number 39 of 49 countries analyzed.
Indeed, Ukraine’s candidacy seemed like a pipe dream when Zelensky raised it at the start of the Russian invasion and when he submitted the official application on March 8. But the Ukrainian leader has managed to win the favor of most of the European parliaments, with remote interventions in one after another, and of public opinion, which has drastically reduced the room for maneuver of the EU governments to give him a not sharp.
Von der Leyen immediately smelled the success of Zelensky’s crusade and took his side: “My message is clear, Ukraine belongs to the European family”, assured the president of the Commission during her first visit to kyiv in the middle of the war, last April 8. The president returned to the Ukrainian capital on June 11 to finalize the conditions that accompany the recognition of the candidacy. And, as usual during her mandate, she has imposed her criteria on the rest of the commissioners. “The presidency already had the decision made even before the orientation debate that it convened last Monday to debate the candidacy,” they point out from the cabinet of one of the commissioners, uncomfortable with the German’s directory.
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