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Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmyhal has a tough two-year timetable for securing EU membership that will dominate talks at this week’s historic EU-Ukraine summit, the first to be held on Ukrainian soil.
The problem? Nobody in the EU thinks this is realistic.
When EU commissioners travel to Kyiv later this week ahead of Friday’s summit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the heads of the European Commission and Council, their main task will be to manage expectations.
Shyamhal himself imposes a strict deadline. “We have a very ambitious plan to join the European Union within the next two years,” he told Politico. “So we hope that this year, in 2023, we can already be at this stage of pre-accession negotiations,” he said.
It throws down a gauntlet to the EU establishment, which is trying to make Ukraine’s membership a more distant prospect.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last year that it could take “decades” before Ukraine joins. Even EU leaders, who supported Ukraine’s candidate status at their June summit, have privately acknowledged that the country’s chances of full membership are still years away (and perhaps that’s one of the reasons they supported the idea in the first place. ) After all, Serbia, Candidate countries like Turkey and Montenegro have been waiting for years since 1999 from Ankara.
Ukraine is an enigma for the European Union. Many argue that Brussels has a special responsibility towards Kiev. After all, it was Ukrainian anger over President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to withdraw from a political and economic association agreement with the European Union at Russia’s request that sparked the Maidan uprising in 2014. and paved the way for war. As Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said: Ukraine is “the only country where people have been shot for wrapping themselves in the European flag”.
Ukraine’s closest EU allies, such as Poland and the Baltics, strongly support Kyiv’s membership push, seeing it as a democracy resistant to aggression. Much of the EU’s old guard is wary that Ukraine – a global agricultural superpower – could undermine its own capabilities and advantages. Ukraine and Poland – with a combined population of 80 million – could rival Germany as a political power in the European Council, and some say Kyiv would be too much of a drain on the EU budget. EU.
Short term deliverables
Friday’s summit in Kiev – the first EU meeting to be held in an active war zone – will be about striking the right balance.
Although EU national leaders were not present, European Council officials were busy communicating with EU member states about the final announcement.
Some countries insist that the declaration should not deviate from the language used at the June European Council – insisting that candidate countries must respond to certain criteria if Ukraine’s future lies within the EU. “Kyiv’s expectations are high, but all conditions set by the commission need to be met. It’s a merit-based process,” a senior EU official said.
Ukraine is an enigma for the European Union. Many argue that Brussels has a special responsibility towards Kyiv Sergey Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images
Still, progress is expected when Zelenskiy meets with von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel.
Shmihal told Politico he expects Ukraine to achieve a “significant breakthrough” on Friday, particularly in certain areas — agreement on a visa-free regime for industrial goods; suspending tariffs on Ukrainian exports for another year; and “active progress” in joining the SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) payment system and including Ukraine in the EU mobile roaming zone.
“We hope to progress and accelerate the path to signing this agreement,” he said.
The hot topic – and one of the main question marks over Ukraine’s EU membership – will be Ukraine’s fight against corruption. The deputy infrastructure minister was sacked and the deputy foreign minister resigned this month over a war profiteering scandal in government contracts.
“We need a reformed Ukraine,” said an EU official involved in preparations for the summit. “We cannot have a Ukraine like before the war.”
Shmihal emphasized that the Zelenskyi government takes corruption seriously. “We have a zero-tolerance approach to corruption,” he said, referring to the “lightning speed” with which officials were sacked this month. “Unfortunately, corruption was not born yesterday, but we are sure that we will root out corruption,” he said openly, adding that it was the key to the country’s membership. EU
He also said the government is ready to amend the country’s constitutional court’s recent law to respond to requests from the European Commission and the Council of Europe’s advisory body, the Venice Commission. Changes could come as early as this week ahead of the summit, Shamihal said.
Although Ukraine has announced reforms to the Constitutional Court, including the procedure for appointing judges, the Venice Commission remains concerned about the powers and composition of the Advisory Group of Experts, the body that selects candidates for the arena. The objective is to avoid political interference.
Schmihl said that these issues will be addressed. “We are consulting with the European Commission that all published conclusions can be included in the text,” he told Politico.
Still, the symbolic power of this week’s summit will send a strong message to Moscow about Ukraine’s European aspirations.
European Council President Michel used his surprise visit to Kiev this month to reassure Ukraine that EU membership will be a reality for Ukraine, telling Ukrainians in the Rada (parliament) that he dreams of one day having a Ukrainian in his post as president of the European Council. . .
“Ukraine is the EU and the EU is Ukraine,” he said. “We will spare no effort to make this promise a reality as soon as possible.”
The key question for Ukrainians after Friday’s meeting will be how quickly rhetoric and promises can turn into reality.
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