30th Mar 2023

Sweden supports Ukraine's 'European choice'

  • Kyiv applied to join the EU shortly after Russia's attack (Photo: Emilio Morenatti)
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Sweden has voiced support for Ukraine's "European choice" as diplomacy gathers pace ahead of an EU summit on its first-ever wartime enlargement decision.

"The Swedish government stands firm in its support for Ukraine's European choice," its foreign ministry told EUobserver on Sunday (12 June).

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  • EU leaders will "revert to the application for EU membership of Ukraine as well as of the Republic of Moldova and Georgia" at a summit on 23 June, the summit agenda said (Photo: Eric Maurice)

"Our engagement in the Eastern Partnership, which Poland and Sweden launched more than a decade ago, reflects our strong conviction and support for Ukraine's close ties with the EU," it added, referring to an EU project to forge closer relations with former Soviet states launched by Stockholm and Warsaw in 2009.

Ukraine applied to join the EU in February while already under Russian fire in a bid to legally anchor Western commitment to its future.

The European Commission is to issue its recommendation on Friday (17 June) on whether to grant Ukraine official EU candidacy status.

Candidacy would be just one step in an accession process that would take several years, but even so EU countries must endorse the recommendation first.

And EU leaders will "revert to the application for EU membership of Ukraine as well as of the Republic of Moldova and Georgia" at a summit on 23 June, the summit agenda said, after Georgia and Moldova joined Ukraine in also filing EU bids.

For her part, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen raised hopes of a positive recommendation with beaming smiles on a visit to Kyiv on Saturday.

But she also reminded Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky that "there is still need for reforms to be implemented, to fight corruption for example".

Poland and the Baltic States are said to be "unconditionally" in favour of Ukraine's EU candidacy, diplomats said.

But if Sweden's statement sounded positive, it also contained caveats which pointed to tensions in the EU talks.

"Ukraine's application for EU membership should be dealt with in the same way as other countries' applications have been," the Swedish foreign ministry also told EUobserver.

"The first step is for the Council of the European Union to ask the Commission to assess whether conditions exist for starting negotiations with Ukraine. In this way, we would show that we take Ukraine's application seriously," it added.

France and Germany have so far played their cards close to their chests.

But both they and Sweden were part of a group that still had "questions and reservations" an EU diplomat said. The group also included Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain, the diplomat said.

The fear was that some might call for "unrealistic" reforms in Ukraine before granting EU candidacy, effectively kicking the process into the long grass, a second EU diplomat said.

"And of course if Ukraine doesn't get it, the other two [Georgia and Moldova] can forget about anything," the diplomat added.

But with EU unanimity required to go ahead, a second fear is that EU states with close Russia ties might sabotage the process with a veto.

Hungary recently vetoed an EU oil embargo on Russia and the blacklisting of a top Russian churchman in what some diplomats say might "embolden" further action in future.

"I think it will be possible to pacify them [wary countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands]," a third EU source said.

"I'm more fearful of Russian stooges, meaning Cyprus, Hungary, Austria, Malta," the source said.

In the background, the US and the UK have been historically in favour of EU enlargement in eastern Europe, but the UK's voice counts for little after Brexit, EU sources said.

Matter of time?

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, voiced optimism on Sunday that "Ukraine's fully-fledged EU membership is just a matter of time".

Any country seeking EU candidacy status must complete an onerous EU Commission questionnaire hundreds of pages long.

And Chentsov underlined that this was no ordinary application.

"Ukraine did it in a record high speed under war conditions, while all the government, ministries and respective institutions involved in working on the questionnaire were in Kyiv, under Russian shelling and constant air raids," he told EUobserver.

Asked how he thought Russia might react if EU leaders took a positive decision next week, Chentsov said Russia should "stop this savage war" and "finally start taking care of its own people" instead.

"Looting by Russian soldiers in Ukraine demonstrates the level of misery and degradation of this country [Russia]," he said.

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