Russia’s war against Ukraine marks a before and after in the history of a European Union committed to reviewing both its internal structure —to adapt it to the new reality of the continent— and its accession model —so as not to completely frustrate the expectations of Ukraine-. The European summit that will put an end to the French presidency of the EU at the end of June will be the starting point of a transformation that may include the revision of the Treaties and the creation of a special status that offers the candidate countries a good part of the club privileges while they wait for their final entry.
The need to rescue Ukraine has already forced the EU to take unprecedented decisions, such as taking in an unlimited number of refugees or financing the purchase of lethal weapons. But the changes have only just begun and everything indicates that a profound remodeling process of the EU will be launched that could reach one of its culminating points in the second half of 2023, during the Spanish presidency.
The next gesture towards kyiv, according to community sources, could come during the June summit, with the possible, and even probable, granting of the status of a candidate country to join only three months after having made the request. With other countries, Albania or North Macedonia being the most recent, Brussels took months or years to take that first step.
Some partners are still reluctant to add Ukraine to the list of waiting countries, for fear of creating false expectations among their population. But the recognition would visualize the commitment of the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who during her recent visit to kyiv assured that “Ukraine belongs to the European family”. “We will speed up the process. [de adhesión]”, he said, “as much as possible”.
In any case, candidate status does not guarantee anything, not even the opening of accession negotiations. And the duration of the entry process in the case of Ukraine is calculated not in years, but in decades. Susi Dennison, director of the European Power program at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank, points out that “the length of the process is not only on the part of the EU, which in the case of Ukraine is moving very fast to its historical standards, but also by what the applicant needs to do.” Dennison reminds that “Ukraine should undertake important political and democratic reforms to meet the accession criteria and, unfortunately, this does not happen overnight, especially in a context of war”.
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Before the Russian invasion, the country presided over by Volodímir Zelensky was already at the bottom of almost all international rankings in democratic quality. It can be seen in indicators such as the index of the American center Freedom House, which describes Ukraine as “partially free”; Transparency International, where it ranks 122 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption, or respect for the rights of the LGTBI community, prepared by ILGA-Europe, in which it ranks 39 out of 49.
Still, most European capitals accept that the EU must demonstrate a tangible commitment to Ukraine. And for this reason, the possibility of offering kyiv a very firm anchor is also paving the way, allowing the Ukrainians to enjoy many of the club’s advantages while the accession negotiations last. The privileges would include from community funds to economic integration or facilities for the free movement of people, goods and services. France, which holds the presidency of the EU this semester, has even proposed creating a Confederation between the community club and the countries around it that, for one reason or another, are not in a position or do not want to join as full members.
Dennison unambiguously supports the idea. “A quick entry into the EU is not possible, but it is necessary to offer support to Ukraine. And the way to solve that puzzle is to establish a new layer of membership with countries that commit to putting in place the necessary reforms to join.” The ECFR analyst believes that “what Ukraine needs now is a security umbrella and such a solution would offer it some certainty and at the same time show Russia that the EU is simply not going to leave Ukraine out in the open.”
The new status of the countries in the orbit of the EU would become part of the reforms that the club is going to undertake as a follow-up to the Conference on the future of Europe, concluded on May 9. The European Parliament has approved this month a resolution in which he defends a reform of the Treaties. And community sources do not rule out that the June summit agrees to call a Convention, a forum in charge of examining the in-depth revision of the Treaties and made up of representatives of the national Parliaments, the Heads of State or Government of the Member States , the European Parliament and the Commission.
Carlos Carnero, a former MEP, was a member of the last European Convention held, which in 2004 led to a draft European Constitution. Carnero, today an advisor at the Vinces consulting firm, believes that “a new Convention should give rise to a Treaty with the federal orientation claimed a few days ago by the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, or that appears in the contract of the Olaf Scholz coalition government in Germany”. Carnero acknowledges, however, that “it will be difficult to move in that direction.”
Some community sources even value following this procedure as counterproductive because they fear that it will take too long or crash against public opinion in some countries, as happened with the frustrated draft of the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands. The reticent advocate more surgical reforms that can be approved with the Treaties in force. Measures such as the suppression of the veto in foreign policy and taxation are possible with the current legal framework. Some sources and others agree, however, that the Union needs an adjustment both to assume new responsibilities in areas such as health, defense or foreign affairs and to adapt the institutions to a future enlargement to the east and the Balkans, which, in all probability, it will come sooner or later.
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