20th Mar 2023


Ukraine deputy PM to EU: 'Now accept our membership bid'

  • Ukrainian refugees arrive in Berlin train station: 86-percent of Ukrainians support Ukraine's EU membership, and majorities (over 60 percent) in France, Germany, Italy and Poland see Ukraine as part of the European family (Photo: Matthias Berg)
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On the fifth day of Russia's brutal and unprovoked aggression, the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed an application for Ukraine's membership in the EU. To some, this step during a full-scale war may seem untimely.

Yet for Ukrainians, it is logical and imminent.

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  • Olga Stefanishyna: "Isn't that what Robert Schuman, one of EU founding fathers, called to do? 'Peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it'." (Photo: Wikimedia)

Today, Ukraine is desperately fighting for its survival as a democratic and free state. Ukrainians are motivated by a strong belief that the return of the tyranny and colonial "spheres of influence" of 20th century Europe is impossible and unacceptable.

They fight with the belief that the European project — a union of free and strong nations — is stronger than the "Russkyi Mir" [Russian World] which brings destruction, suffering and death.

This war in the heart of the European continent leads to tectonic shifts which will be felt all around the globe. The number of civilian deaths has already reached thousands, hundreds of children are killed, entire cities are destroyed, and millions have fled their homes. Russia's barbaric actions have shocked the world.

Today, citizens of European Union nations are still able to watch the situation from the comfort of their homes. Their peace is possible because Ukraine is a shield for the European sky.

But what will happen if our shield for democratic Europe is not there anymore? Russia's leadership no longer hides its rhetoric that the Kremlin sees other European countries as its target. Russian missiles are already falling close to the EU border.

A new nuclear catastrophe in Europe is a very seized threat, too. Russian troops captured the Chornobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants, terrorising the personnel and disrupting their safe operation.

The only way to peace is to ensure Europe will not be a playground for a brutal dictator. European leaders once again have the responsibility to demonstrate leadership on the continent and ensure that humanity will prevail. Isn't that what Robert Schuman, one of EU founding fathers, called to do? "Peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it".

Understanding what is at stake in Ukraine is essential for sufficient responses to Putin's regime.

Ukrainians are a nation of strong and courageous people. We will not surrender, we will not stop believing in a better future for Europe, and we hope for such courage, resilience and determination from our European partners.

Only by joint decisive efforts can we stop this slaughter of Ukrainian people whose only desire was to live in a 'normal' European country. Only together can we reinforce the European project that only will ensure democratic and free future for the continent.

And that is why Ukraine's EU membership bid is critical. Stepping up with Ukraine's EU aspirations is a clear message from EU leaders that they are not willing to fall into a grey zone of eternal uncertainty.

86-percent domestic support

Ukraine and the EU have already gone a long way to this goal.

86 percent of Ukrainians support Ukraine's EU membership, and majorities of people (over 60 percent) in France, Germany, Italy and Poland see Ukraine as part of the European family.

In 2017, the EU Association Agreement entered into full force — the largest comprehensive agreement the EU has ever signed with a partner country.

At the time of the aggression, Ukraine had fulfilled 63 percent of its obligations under the agreement to implement a significant part of European regulations.

Significant level of political and economic convergence has resulted in a strong and resilient governance that has preserved its effectiveness even under direct Russian bombardment.

The EU is Ukraine's main trade partner with a more than 40 percent share of the country's total trade turnover in 2021.

The integration of our markets is also proceeding dynamically. Ukraine's united energy system has been operating synchronously with the European ENTSO-E network since March.

We achieved this while already being at war.

Our skies are united by a common aviation space, and Ukraine has already received the first successful assessments of its readiness to join the agreements on conformity assessment and acceptance of industrial goods.

We have significant results in sectoral integration, in particular in energy, digital, and customs spheres. Ukraine has joined key EU policy initiatives such as the European Green Deal. In addition, millions of Ukrainians work in the EU countries contributing to their economic growth.

I would like to emphasise that Ukraine is ready for an audit that is supposed to happen before the acquisition of the candidate status.

Even during the war (and perhaps because of it), the Ukrainian government and civil society are incredibly mobilised to do our homework fast.

At the same time, we are grateful to the European Commission, and personally to president Ursula von der Leyen, for the clear signal that the European side is also ready to mobilise the necessary resources to proceed as fast as possible.

Moreover, this audit will be based on extensive work we have already done together. Last year, we also began preparing a joint assessment with the EU on achieving the objectives of the Association Agreement. This preliminary assessment showed that our views on this situation are 90 percent compatible.

We believe that Ukraine's official acquisition of EU candidate status need only be a matter of several months. Without delays we are looking forward to starting negotiation talks on Ukraine's accession to the EU right away.

This will be the strongest signal that the course of history cannot be reversed by force. Historic challenges require exceptional decisions.

Economically, Ukraine is already well integrated with the EU. It is time for political decisions for the European Union on which the prosperity, safety, and future of the whole continent will depend.

Author bio

Olga Stefanishyna is deputy prime minister of Ukraine for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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