23rd Mar 2023

Ukraine and Moldova on path to be 'EU candidates'

  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen spoke to press in Brussels on Friday (Photo:
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Ukraine and Moldova should immediately join the EU enlargement queue as candidates, but Georgia isn't ready yet, the EU Commission said on Friday (17 June).

Its recommendations come ahead of an EU summit next week, setting the stage for Europe to give Ukraine a wartime morale boost leaders endorse the move.

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"We're taking a huge step today," commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

The move showed that every country in Europe "had the right to determine its own future" despite Russia's aggression, she said.

"This is a historic day ... the next steps are now in the hands of our member states," she added.

Prior to the war, Ukraine had struggled ever since the Orange Revolution in 2004 even to get vaguely pro-enlargement wording in joint EU declarations.

But if EU leaders give the green light, Ukraine and Moldova will now leapfrog places such as Bosnia and Kosovo in the enlargement line.

And even though Ukrainian EU accession might take well over a decade, the commission's recommendation envisages a huge idea — eventual EU absorption of one of the largest, poorest, and most brutally contested territories in Europe.

Von der Leyen's positive recommendation was made "on the understanding" that Kyiv and Chișinău will make a laundry list of reforms after becoming EU candidates.

These focus on anti-corruption measures, such as judicial independence, anti-money laundering measures, and what the commission called "anti-oligarch" laws.

It says Georgia should be given candidate status "once the following priorities will have been addressed" adding a similar list.

Friday's good news for Ukraine and Moldova comes after the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Romania said in Kyiv on Thursday that they also favoured "immediate candidate status status" for Ukraine.

Poland and the Baltic States also want to go ahead, but the Netherlands and Denmark have voiced reservations, while some EU diplomats fear Russia-friendly EU status might veto Ukraine's progress.

Asked by press on Friday what his home country's intentions were after Hungary recently vetoed EU sanctions on Russia, Hungarian EU commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said he did not speak for Budapest.

But the "best way to have all member states on board" was to adhere strictly to enlargement criteria, he said.

If Ukraine and Moldova didn't make the reforms they had promised, their EU progress could be reversed, von der Leyen warned.

And even though there was a war on, "its [Ukraine's] parliament is functioning, its government is functioning," so it could start right away, she added.

The EU launched its Western Balkan wave of enlargement at a summit in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 2003.

But almost 20 years later Bosnia still had 14 conditions to fulfil before becoming a candidate Várhelyi said.

Albania and North Macedonia are candidates and have fulfilled conditions to move to the next step — opening accession talks.

But Bulgaria has vetoed the move in a dispute with North Macedonia over culture and language.

There had been hope of a breakthrough at the summit next week, but Várhelyi gave a grim assessment of Bulgaria's position.

He said there was "complete deadlock" for reasons linked to "internal politics" in Bulgaria, he said Friday, while grumbling over all the time he had spent travelling back and forth to Sofia in recent months.

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