Ukraine Plans to Progress to Full EU Membership Within Two Years


The Ukrainian government has revealed it plans to be a full European Union member-state within two years ahead of a historic Ukraine-EU summit in Kyiv.

“We have a very ambitious plan to join the European Union within the next two years,” revealed Denys Shmyhal, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, in comments to POLITICO.

“So we expect that this year, in 2023, we can already have this pre-entry stage of negotiations,” Shmyhal continued, speaking ahead of a summit between President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government and top eurocrats at the European Commission and the European Council.

The heads of both EU bodies have encouraged Kyiv’s EU ambitions, with Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen saying of Ukraine that “over time, they belong to us. They are one of us and we want them in.”

Council chief Charles Michel, meanwhile, said during a surprise visit to Kyiv that “Ukraine is the EU and the EU is Ukraine,” telling the country’s parliament that “[w]e must spare no effort to turn this promise into reality as fast as we can” and musing on a time when a Ukrainian occupied his post.

Behind the scenes, however, Brussels appears to have some misgivings about following through on its rhetoric, with corruption in Ukraine a key concern and an official telling POLITICO that “[w]e cannot have the same Ukraine as before the war” but only a “reformed Ukraine”.

Despite the political capital invested in bringing Ukraine into the EU’s orbit during the Euromaidan — and the subsequent violence, which has spilled over into the bloc in various ways, particularly with respect to refugee flows and sanctions — many of its leaders appear hesitant if not outright fearful of the consequences of fully absorbing it.

Physically, the country is massive, and economically it was relatively impoverished even before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 — there seems little question that it would be anything but a significant drain on the EU’s central budget, further straining net contributors and diverting funds from net recipients as the world appears to be entering a number of economic crises. Ukraine is rated as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe.

Its population is also not insubstantial at approaching 40 million — meaning there could not only be a very large outflow of Ukrainian migrants under the EU’s Free Movement migration regime, straining public services and driving down wages in higher-pay member-states, but that the political influence countries like Germany might be diluted in Brussels, particularly if Ukraine tended aligned with easterly countries of similar size, like Poland, against the interests of the EU’s traditional power players in Western Europe.

There is also the question of the effect on EU citizenship and the Common External Border of incorporating Ukraine if swathes of its territory remain under Russian control, and the fact that the EU has a NATO-like common defence clause in its treaties — with the crucial difference that American military might is not part of its mutual aid package.

POLITICO cites French president Emmanuel Macron as saying it could be “decades” before Ukraine is permitted to fully enter the fold, while Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s government has long been at odds with successive governments in Kyiv over the alleged mistreatment of their Hungarian minority, concentrated in the Transcarpathia region.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery
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