Unanimity on Ukraine's entry into the European Union

The summit of European foreign ministers, days before the meeting of the presidents and prime ministers of the EU-27, ended with a complete consensus on the candidate status of Ukraine and Moldova

PHOTO/JANIS LAIZANS  -   Von der Leyen hands over the questionnaire to be completed by Ukraine to President Volodymir Zelenski, the first step towards Ukraine's application for EU membership

Ukraine is getting closer and closer to achieving the status of candidate country for EU membership. A reality that became evident during the first summit of the EU-27 following the European Commission's recommendation last Friday to start the accession process of both Ukraine and Moldova to the EU. Georgia's application, however, was subject to the economic and industrial need to "unite politically and to design a clear path towards structural reform and towards the European Union", according to the President of the European Executive, Ursula Con der Leyen. 

Monday's summit, which brought together all the EU's foreign affairs ministers in Luxembourg, was an opportunity for the EU-27 to demonstrate their unity - at a technical level - in the face of Ukraine's entry into the EU, in line with the Commission's recommendations of Friday 17 June. 

REUTERS/YVES HERMAN - File photo. European Union flags in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, August 2020

"Given what is happening in Europe, unity is the most important thing, and that is why we believe that the Commission's proposal is balanced," said Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra, putting aside the reticence that had characterised Amsterdam until now. 

It is highly likely that this unanimity will serve to set the tone for negotiations between the presidents of state and government in the run-up to the European Council summit on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 June. A meeting where the leaders of the EU-27 will have the last word on the start of what the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, described as a "demanding and long" accession process, for which unanimity is essential.

REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER - France's Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune

"It is a historic moment in which we all have to reflect on what we will be in the coming years if we take the wrong direction", warned Annalena Baerbock, the German Foreign Minister, who tried to give the Union strength by stressing that it "always grows in the most difficult moments". The "total consensus" praised by the Frenchman Beaume even materialised in the support of the Hungarian ultra-nationalist Viktor Orbán, who, after a telephone conversation with Zelenski, announced that he would back Ukraine's aspirations to join the Union. 

The Union has a "political, strategic and moral imperative" with Kiev, said the French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, while Spain described the EU executive's report as "positive and balanced", and the Czech Republic - about to take over the rotating presidency of the Union - warned that the Ukrainian people "are dying for European values", and would feel abandoned by Russia if it were rejected by the EU. 

However, the Ukrainian and Moldovan accession process would not be without conditions. Despite the recognition of the progress made by both countries, "the need to consolidate reforms and ensure their implementation" - in the judiciary, the fight against corruption and the protection of minorities - remains a prerequisite, Von der Leyen said. "The process shows that it is the country itself that has it in its own hands, whether there is progress, stagnation or setbacks," explained Baerbock. 

REUTERS/JOHN THYS - The European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium

Against this backdrop, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, has been hopeful, predicting unanimous approval for both Ukraine and Moldova, as he has "not heard anyone object". 

Another alternative?

At the same time, and although Paris strongly supports the Ukrainian candidacy, the leader of the Elysée, Emmanuel Macron, has also worked on the proposal to create a "political community" that differs from the European integration project. An initiative that the French Secretary of State for European Affairs defended at the ministerial summit, and which, despite criticism, would aim to initiate actions "not alternatively, but complementary, additional" in order to "maintain the European perspective" in the event that the accession process takes too long. 

The Balkans do not fall into oblivion
AFP/ROBERT ATANASOVSKI - Photo Image. A man walks past the Albanian, EU and North Macedonian flags at a market in Skopje, 2020

Germany, Slovenia and Austria, meanwhile, called for progress in the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans region, where North Macedonia and Albania are still waiting for negotiations to begin. For this reason, the meeting on Thursday 23rd will also be attended by both countries in order to foreseeably approve the opening of talks. 

However, these stalled candidacies will have to face Bulgaria's blockade, which demands that the Macedonian capital of Skopje recognise that it has a common history, language and identity with Sofia.