11th Dec 2023

War-torn Ukraine receives EU nod for accession talks

  • Russia has devastated Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, in an invasion estimated to have claimed over 220,000 lives so far (Photo: Emilio Morenatti)
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The EU is preparing to open accession talks with Ukraine in December in a morale-booster after 623 days of full-scale Russian aggression.

A more professional judiciary in Kyiv, high-level anti-corruption convictions, and waning political interference by business barons meant EU leaders should agree the step next month, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in the EU capital on Wednesday (8 November).

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  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen watches Ukraine president Volodomyr Zelensky address the European Parliament, in March 2022 (Photo: European Parliament)

"Ukraine has completed well over 90 percent of the necessary steps that we set out last year in our report," she said. "It's a day to celebrate," she added.

"I thank the EU and personally [von der Leyen] for supporting Ukraine on our road to the EU," responded Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky.

The Baltic states immediately started pushing for the move, which will require an EU consensus.

"Expect EU leaders to formalise the decision at December [summit]", said Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas on X. Latvian president Gitanas Nausėda said: "It's crucial to turn these recommendations into decisions".

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made formerly enlargement-wary EU nations, such as Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands keen to revive the moribund process for strategic reasons.

Von der Leyen also gave the green light to start accession talks with Moldova in December and to make Bosnia and Georgia official EU candidates to build momentum.

But Hungary's pro-Russian prime minister Viktor Orbán said on Monday that Russia's attack meant Ukraine was unfit to join the EU.

"We don't know how big the territory of this country [Ukraine] is, as the war is still ongoing, we don't know how big its population is as they are fleeing," Orbán told state radio, repeating a Kremlin view.

The commission's annual enlargement reports are 150-page long national audits, showing how Kyiv's officials are keeping things going under fire.

Opening accession talks involves convoking elaborate intergovernmental conferences in Europe, in another potential feat of war-time logistics.

Accession talks can last from just three years (Finland in 1995) to five or more years as with Poland (2004) and Croatia (2013), under normal circumstances.

Turkey's talks dragged out for 11 years before grinding to a halt in 2016 after a failed coup hardened the regime in Ankara.

EU countries have also ignored positive commission recommendations for years at a time over bilateral disputes, such as Greece's former veto on North Macedonia, which lasted for 11 years.

But even if Ukraine's talks were to last 10 or more years, Wednesday's EU Commission announcement went down well in Kyiv.

"Such days are worth fighting for," said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine's former EU ambassador, from the Ukrainian capital.

"Definitely, it'll boost the morale of Ukrainian citizens and Ukrainian soldiers. [Russian president Vladimir] Putin's regime won't applaud the EU decision at all," he added.

"We must use this window of geopolitical opportunity," he said.

The morale-booster came amid concern in Ukraine that the West was getting tired of shipping military aid and that focus has switched to the new Gaza war, where the current intensity of killing is far greater.

The EU is also preparing a 12th-round of

Russia sanctions before the end of the year, including an expected ban on Russian diamonds.

For his part, Putin has said that parts of Ukraine belong to Russia for ancestral reasons.

But Ukraine's 44 million people began to break away from Moscow's control after mass-scale anti-corruption and pro-democracy uprisings in 2004 and 2014, when Putin's tanks first rolled in.

Von der Leyen noted on Wednesday that Moldova had seen several failed Russian coup attempts in the past year trying to topple its pro-EU government.

Nationalist and pro-Russian forces in Bosnia and Serbia also threatened to aggravate instability in the Western Balkans, the commission has warned.


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