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Does the EU really want Ukraine as a member?

All in this together? Credit: Getty

November 3, 2023 - 12:45pm

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock yesterday gave her support to Ukraine’s accession to the EU. She expressed her confidence that, at a summit in December, the European Council will announce the opening of membership negotiations with Ukraine. 

Such vocal endorsement from a European powerhouse is a rare piece of good news for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — he has frequently made impassioned pleas for his country to join the EU and stressed that Ukraine’s rightful place is in Europe. 

Ukraine may well receive membership — eventually. European diplomats have admitted that, with Ukraine granted candidate status in June 2022, the EU can be expected to give the green light to negotiations in December and the political momentum is too overwhelming for members to protest. 

However, numerous challenges stand in Ukraine’s way, with European diplomats concerned that an expanded union of 30 or more states could be too bloated to function effectively. As such, Baerbock is collaborating with members and accession countries to formulate reform proposals. But with EU countries already having vastly different initial ideas, finding a compromise is likely to be challenging.

Underlying every reform is the fact that Ukraine would be significantly less prosperous than most of its EU bedfellows: last year, it had a GDP per capita of $4,534, compared with $48,433 in Germany, and the country would arrive still scarred from war. Internal EU projections for an enlarged union encompassing Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and six western Balkan states have estimated that Kyiv would be entitled to approximately €186 billion over seven years. 

This would have serious ramifications for existing member states, requiring cuts in farm subsidies of around 20%. The new entrants’ eligibility for money to improve infrastructure in poorer states would also mean the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta no longer qualify for such funding. 

Perhaps anticipating resistance from these countries, Baerbock has proposed giving Ukraine and other accession countries early benefits before full membership — but the EU does not intend to offer a fast-tracked process. When Brussels granted Ukraine membership candidate status, it outlined seven conditions for commencing negotiations, including that the country “further strengthen the fight against corruption”.

This is clearly a sticking point. Next week, the European Commission will publish a report on accession countries’ progress towards membership. Officials say that it will recommend opening negotiations with Ukraine, but rigidly demand progress on anti-corruption measures, as well as an independent judiciary and minority rights. And while Zelenskyy has spearheaded a visible crackdown against corruption, his country still ranks at 116 on the Corruption Perceptions Index, and a presidential advisor recently commented that officials are still “stealing like there’s no tomorrow”. Such reforms, then, would be difficult and time-consuming for a government to implement at any time, never mind in the midst of armed conflict. 

In August, European Council President Charles Michel claimed that the EU should be ready to enlarge by 2030. Three months later, it appears he was being excessively optimistic. For all the bluster and charged rhetoric, a long road lies ahead before Ukraine can take its place at the European table.

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Paddy Taylor
PT
Paddy Taylor
5 months ago

If “Corruption” was actually a bar to membership, just how small do we think the EU would be?

Last edited 5 months ago by Paddy Taylor
Gorka Sillero
Gorka Sillero
5 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

They did take Spain in the 80s and trust me, it was an extremely corrupt country.

Stan Zorin
SZ
Stan Zorin
5 months ago
Reply to  Gorka Sillero

Not true, not “extremely corrupt.”
In fact, Spain was very well run and administered. The technocrats of the Franco regime still run the system then.
If you want to know what corruption is then look at Italy with its perennial Mafia and its boss the Freemasonry problem.
If you want to know what “extreme corruption” is then look at Greece. No country in Europe is more corrupt than Greece, except Russia.

Katharine Eyre
KE
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago

“However, numerous challenges stand in Ukraine’s way, with European diplomats concerned that an expanded union of 30 or more states could be too bloated to function effectively.”
The EU hasn’t functioned effectively for ages and adding Ukraine (or any other country) into it will just make it worse. Channelling the late, great Matthew Perry: “Could this BE more obvious?”
We’ve spent almost 20 years muttering about how the 2004 enlargement and the later ones weren’t done right and/or were a mistake. And the answer is now to make the same mistake again, because member states are just being railroaded into it?
#continentalfacepalm

Right-Wing Hippie
RH
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Hey, America’s got 50 states and we’re almost not quite too bloated to function effectively.

Rocky Martiano
RM
Rocky Martiano
5 months ago

You can’t even agree on just how massive your budget deficits should be.

Fran Martinez
FM
Fran Martinez
5 months ago

When was the last time they accepted a new state?

D Walsh
D Walsh
5 months ago

A GDP of $4500 seems very optimistic at this point, the Russians now control 20% of the country and will probably take another 20%. And I doubt many of the refugees in Western Europe will want to return any time soon

Stan Zorin
SZ
Stan Zorin
5 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Do you use hallucinogenic drugs ?
The Russians have lost half of the territory they had occupied in March of the last year and you project that they will get it back.
Maybe in another Universe but not in this one.

Right-Wing Hippie
RH
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago

I glanced at the title and read it as “Does the EU Really Want Cocaine as a Member,” and did a double take. I mean, they got Finland and Sweden; they should have more than enough snow.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
5 months ago

They’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Hey, Ukraine’s nothing to sniff at.

Stan Zorin
SZ
Stan Zorin
5 months ago

Do you suffer from persistent dreams about cocaine ?
Why did you bring the drug to the discussion ?

P Branagan
PB
P Branagan
5 months ago

I think the EU should make January 1st 2124 the target date for Ukraine to join.

Tyler Durden
TD
Tyler Durden
5 months ago

The EU and NATO want the Ukraine as a buffer between the new Russian bloc. They can fight over their eastern borders all they like to that end, the Ukrainians.

Rocky Martiano
RM
Rocky Martiano
5 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

As does Russia. The entire conflict could have been avoided if that simple fact had been recognised in the West.

Stan Zorin
SZ
Stan Zorin
5 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Nonsense.

Stan Zorin
Stan Zorin
5 months ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

What is “the new Russian bloc” ?
Please describe it.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

Expanded EU membership has been driven mostly under duress from the United States with its desire for NATO to expand ever eastward into Russia. As always Britain acted as the trojan horse of US interests. I can remember that in the late 90s both Germany and France were very cautious about expanding membership into countries like Poland because they feared the migratory pressure which accession of much poorer countries would impose on the concept of freedom of movement. Britain had its own interest in expanding rather than deepening the Union for obvious reasons. The US got its way, further countries in the east were admitted, Tony Blair rushed to open the British labour market it to eastern European workers five years before it needed to. Then the British authorities were quickly complaining of the effects.