The European Union Commission said Friday that Ukraine should be considered a candidate state. It is now up to the 27 EU member states to decide whether or not they agree with the Commission’s opinion.
Here are the key things to know about Ukraine’s EU candidacy:
What is the procedure to become a member of the EU? On paper, the process is relatively simple. A country applies and the Commission issues a verdict on whether or not it should be considered for application. As will probably be the case with Ukraine, the Commission will probably present some ideas for Member States to accept a new candidate.
As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made clear on Friday, Ukraine will still have to meet a series of criteria before accession negotiations can begin, even if the EU27 agrees to accept his candidate status next week.
The Copenhagen criteria are a rather opaque trio of requirements that the EU must meet that an applicant state has met in order to enter into proper accession negotiations. They focus on whether or not this country has a functioning free market economy, whether the country’s institutions are fit to uphold European values such as human rights and the interpretation of the state of law by the EU and whether the country has a functioning and inclusive democracy.
Once the country has judged that it has met these criteria, it can start the EU’s 35 negotiating chapters, the last three of which return to certain areas of the Copenhagen criteria.
Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, it must then be ratified in the European Parliament and by the legislative branches of government in each member state.
What do EU countries think about Ukraine’s EU membership? This is where it starts to get complicated. While the EU and its 27 members have largely supported Ukraine in its war effort, the fact that a country currently at war is starting the accession process raises all sorts of problems.
A number of candidate states have been in the process of joining for years and have in some cases seen their membership slowed down due to domestic political instability. One example is the case of Turkey, whose candidacy was essentially frozen over fears of a rollback of the rule of law and human rights. Starting the process with a country currently at war will raise questions from other candidate states whose applications have been similarly frozen.
There are also real concerns that Ukraine is far from meeting the Copenhagen criteria anytime soon. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is 122nd on its list of 180 countries. For comparison, Russia is in 136th place. Given that parts of Ukraine are currently occupied by Russia and this could last long after the war is over, it is difficult to predict whether this will get better or worse in the coming years. Some EU officials have also expressed fears that after the war it will be difficult to say what human rights will look like inside Ukraine.
How long would that take? It really depends on the state in which Ukraine finds itself at the end of the war. It seems highly unlikely that Ukraine will be close to meeting the criteria to enter into negotiations even for a significant period after the end of the war. Along with the reconstruction project, Ukraine will have to transition from a country operating under varying degrees of martial law and curfews to a functioning democracy.
The average time for a country to join the EU is four years and 10 months, according to London think tank, UK in a Changing Europe. The member states which could be considered as a kind of model for Ukraine’s accession – Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovenia – were all above the average waiting time.
What would EU membership mean for Ukraine? Ukraine would be a member of the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU’s single market and customs union, and would enjoy the protection of EU courts and access to the EU budget.
EU membership would also place Ukraine very clearly in the club of countries considered part of the Western alliance and the US-led world order.
Learn more about Ukraine’s candidacy here and see a map below of current EU member countries: