Aliona Hlivco, Political Risk Consultant and Strategic Relations Manager at Henry Jackson Society, argues YES
On June 23 2022, Ukraine, a country afflicted by a war waged on its territory, witnessed an historic moment: the European Union has unanimously approved granting Ukraine official Candidate Status.
The decision has already been dubbed as a morale-boosting exercise and many EU diplomats have rushed to publicly note that this is just the beginning of a long process, the conclusion to which is subject to successful reforms. Nonetheless, the process has begun.
For Ukraine, it is certainly a significant achievement. Ukraine’s soviet period has taken a serious toll on the country’s development, with the population brutally oppressed, prosecuted for the usage of its native language and for standing up against the horrors and lawlessness of totalitarianism.
The spirit of freedom and defiance was threatened by Holodomor (a man-made famine inflicted on Ukraine by Stalin) and Siberian concentration camps. But my nation persevered. With Russia still our neighbour and heavily infected by the outdated virus of imperialism, Ukraine has gone through the troublesome 90s, the two pro-democracy revolutions and finally the eight-year (and counting) war. One can only argue that Ukraine has proved its right to be a part of the European Union even more so than many countries have.
There is still a lot of work to be done. Even through the active war, Ukraine has to deliver on seven major objectives outlined by the EU, with the first formal assessment scheduled at the end of this year. Strengthening the rule of law, enhancing the transparency of the judicial system, and combating corruption are all serious tasks that Ukraine will be held accountable for on its path to the EU formal membership – no shortcuts are being promised. And certainly, Ukrainians are ready to work for it.
Be in no doubt: if the people of Ukraine were ready to die for the right of self-determination during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, and are now proving their stoic heroism in the fight for independence after 121 days of atrocious war, we will be ready to bring our state to the necessary standard worthy of the democratic community of sovereign and successful states that the European Union is.
William Nattrass, freelance journalist covering Central and Eastern Europe, argues NO
Vladimir Putin says Russia has “no problem” with Ukraine joining the EU. His relaxed response tells us three things.
First, efforts to make the EU an effective defence union aren’t taken seriously in Moscow. And with good reason: Finland and Sweden want to join NATO because, in the words of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, the countries “don’t find much” behind the EU’s mutual defence obligations.
Second, the Kremlin believes EU membership won’t strengthen Ukraine so much as weaken Brussels. An analysis by the European Investment Bank has suggested that rebuilding Ukraine will cost around a trillion euros – and the closer Ukraine gets to the EU, the more the onus will be on the bloc to shoulder the lion’s share. Rebuilding the country will take decades, and there’s a danger that Ukraine becomes the EU’s problem to fix rather than the focus of a collective western effort.
Finally, Putin is aware of simmering unease in Brussels about what Ukrainian membership might mean for EU decision making. After Russia’s invasion, Ukraine will take a justifiably unbending stance on geopolitical issues for a long time to come. But this won’t sit well with the EU’s current requirement for unanimity in foreign policy, especially as other countries – including the bloc’s major powers – still believe in the necessity of some form of long-term accommodation with Russia.
This may leave the EU unable to act, a paralysis already on display during negotiations on Russian oil sanctions. Conviction has grown among the bloc’s leadership that a shift away from unanimity to qualified majority voting is the answer to resolving member states’ ideological differences. But this would be a further curtailment of member states’ national sovereignty, and in the long-term, Ukraine may not find itself so keen on an EU which can force it into positions – possibly including compromises with Russia – against its will.