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Welcoming Ukraine into the EU requires clarity and creativity


BOris Johnson posing as a promoter of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union (EU) is undoubtedly cause for concern: one can dream of better than the architect of Brexit as a herald of enlargement. But the case of Ukraine goes beyond the contradictions. The important trip that the leaders of the Union have just made, on 2 and 3 February, to kyiv, in the middle of the war, has made it possible to reaffirm the strength of the Euro-Ukrainian link, which now needs to be given an institutional form.

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The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the Council, Charles Michel, were able to find the words, alongside President Volodymyr Zelensky, to express the solidarity of Europeans and their faith in the fight of Ukrainians against the Russian aggressor. The presence of the fifteen commissioners who accompanied them, the some 50 billion euros devoted over the past year by Brussels to humanitarian, economic and military aid in kyiv, the real evolution of the EU under the effect of the war are all signs of a powerful commitment. But the Ukrainians don’t just want to win the war that Russia is waging against them: they want to no longer have to fear it.

For this, they see membership of the EU, in addition to that of NATO, as a protection – the same one enjoyed by the former countries of the Warsaw Pact, such as Poland. Their desire for Europe is not new: in 2013, it was the refusal to sign the treaty of association with the EU by their then president, Viktor Yanukovych, under pressure from Moscow, which led to the Maidan uprising, the fall of this president, then, in retaliation, the annexation of Crimea by Vladimir Putin and the first Russian intervention in the Donbass. This desire for Europe has been paid for by Ukraine for ten years.

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Brussels was therefore right to grant, in June 2022, candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, also threatened by Moscow. It was a first form of protection. Accession to the EU is, however, a long, laborious process, which has sometimes left candidates on the way, in particular certain Western Balkan countries, created immense frustrations and provided a vacuum for harmful influences. Taken by the urgency, the Ukrainian leaders ask for an accelerated procedure and wish to join the EU in 2026.

It’s not realistic. Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel therefore wisely refrained from providing a calendar to kyiv. But it would not be realistic either to leave this process in the dark, according to the differences between member states on the advisability of speeding up enlargement or slowing it down. If it is true, as the President of the Commission said, that “the future of Europe is being written in Ukraine”, so we have to be creative and find the formula that will allow this country at war to be integrated into the Union with a trajectory and clear objectives, while avoiding the pitfalls of previous experiences.

It is up to the EU to support Ukraine in its approach, with demands on the fight against corruption, the eradication of the system of oligarchs and judicial reform, demands that are all the more legitimate since Europe will play a major role in reconstruction. It is also up to the EU and its member states to speed up the internal reforms that will enable them to welcome Ukraine without destabilizing or weakening the whole edifice. The circumstances are exceptional, the rhythm must be too.

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