EU-Ukraine Summit Unlikely To Commit To Swift Accession
By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — The EU is expected to commend Ukraine on its progress on membership-bound reforms and send a strong message to Moscow, according to a draft summit communique seen by EURACTIV, but member states remain divided over the speed of accession.
The discussion comes ahead of a major EU visit to Ukraine later this week, which is set to send a message of solidarity while encouraging Kyiv to continue the reforms needed for eventual EU membership, nearly a year after Russia launched its invasion.
European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell are set to meet with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday, preceded by European Commission-to-Ukrainian government consultations on Thursday.
According to the draft communique, seen by EURACTIV, EU and Ukrainian leaders are set to reiterate “the future of Ukraine and its citizens lies within the European Union” and “its commitment to support Ukraine’s further European integration”.
“The EU acknowledged the considerable progress that Ukraine demonstrated in the recent months towards meeting the objectives underpinning its candidate status for EU membership, welcomed Ukraine’s reform efforts in such difficult times, and encouraged the country to continue on this path and to fulfil the conditions specified in the Commission’s opinion on its membership application toadvance towards future EU membership,” the draft communique states in its current form.
Beyond the anticipated language on EU accession, progress is expected in areas such as customs-free access for Ukrainian exports, access to the bloc’s roaming-free zone and inclusion in the single euro payments area.
Both sides are also set to sign a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership on renewables.
For the Commission-to-government consultations, the EU executive has yet to publish an agenda, but financing for Ukraine and reconstruction, the country’s application for EU membership and potential new Russia sanctions are likely to be discussed.
According to several EU diplomats, this week’s summit will also be about managing expectations, no matter the message it is meant to send.
EU ambassadors are expected to agree on the final version of the summit communique on Tuesday (31 January).
Member states over the past weeks have been locked in a brawl regarding the positive wording of the text regarding Ukraine’s EU membership perspective, four EU diplomats told EURACTIV.
Poland, the three Baltic states, and Ukraine have been pushing for language that would indicate to Kyiv its membership application can be sped up.
“What we expect from the summit is encouragement for Ukraine and a clear assessment of the progress they have made,” an Eastern European EU diplomat told EURACTIV.
“Although it’s just a statement, words matter, which is why we are pushing for a more encouraging version of the text,” the diplomat added.
The European Commission recommended EU candidate status for Ukraine in June on the understanding that Kyiv undertakes a series of legislative and policy steps, dubbed the seven recommendations.
These recommendations included enacting legislation on a selection process for the country’s Constitutional Court judges on a competitive basis, strengthening the fight against corruption, harmonising media regulation with EU standards, and protecting national minorities.
As Kyiv has been pressing ahead with reforms over the past months, Ukrainian leaders have expressed hopes that their country could join the bloc in the near future, possibly even within the next two years.
But despite the decision to grant Kyiv candidate status last June, the prospect of Ukraine joining anytime soon remains remote.
“A large number of large member states will not accept too positive language – not in the least because the agreed language is hardly a month old, so no one’s ready to reopen a difficult discussion that we’ve only just concluded,” one EU diplomat told EURACTIV.
Several EU diplomats said that the language in the draft declaration has become ‘too forward-leaning for some more sceptical member states, with pushback expected from France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark and Belgium.
French President Emmanuel Macron said last year it could be “decades” before Ukraine could join the bloc, while even the most supportive EU leaders admit that Kyiv might have a longer road ahead.
The more sceptical member states deem the reference to ‘considerable progress’ as too premature and “pre-empting the normal steps in the accession process” as no formal assessment of Ukraine’s progress has been presented yet.
They would prefer to stick with the language used at the June European Council and the agreed-upon process, under which the European Commission is expected to provide an interim update on Ukraine’s progress in fulfilling the seven requirements that the EU set to start accession talks.
This update would come in addition to the regular assessment done as part of the Commission’s annual enlargement package regularly published in October, where further recommendations are likely to be added.
In private conversations, EU officials working on the file have noted Ukraine has made good progress in enacting a new media law and pushing forward with key nominations on the country’s Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office.
“Considering this is a country at war, they have indeed made a lion’s effort to proceed with what the enlargement process demands of them,” one EU official told EURACTIV with knowledge of the matter told EURACTIV.
While Ukraine has announced a reform of the Constitutional Court and the modalities under which judges are appointed, the Venice Commission still has concerns about the powers and composition of the advisory group of experts, the body which selects candidates for the court.
“Gaps remain in the rule of law and judiciary alignment, as well as in the fight against corruption, with some reforms likely in need of further alignment with EU legislation further down the line,” the EU official added.
To that end, the draft summit declaration is set to state that “reform of the Constitutional Court and the selection procedure of politically independent and qualified constitutional judges remains vital for strengthening Ukraine’s resilience.”