Ukraine’s Path to EU Membership Open

The European Union leaders will formally accept Ukraine as a candidate to join the bloc on Thursday, an ambitious geopolitical move triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, the EU will face another major overhaul as it starts an enlargement process once again.

European Commission President von der Leyen said the move will be historical head of a two day summit that will kickoff the bloc’s most ambitious expansion since accepting Eastern European states after the Cold War.

Von der Leyen said she was not just talking about Putin’s war of aggression but the applications of Moldova and Georgia, as well as Ukraine which she called “a wind of change”.

The decision during the summit will have a symbolic meaning that signals the EU’s intention to reach deep into former Soviet territory. But it will likely take Ukraine and Moldova years – and perhaps more than a decade – to qualify for membership.

While Ukraine and Moldova’s process of EU candidacy will be accepted on Thursay, Georgia will be given a “European perspective” but told it must fulfill conditions before winning candidate status.

Behind the joyous rhetoric however, there is concern about the bloc’s coherence and unison as it looks to enlarge further.

After starting in 1951 as an organization consisting of six countries to jointly regulate their industrial production, the EU now has 27 members that face complex challenges from climate change and the rise of China to the war in Ukraine.

The bloc’s indecision over enlargement has slowed progress towards membership for of Balkan countries including Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia, whose leaders will meet their EU counterparts in Brussels on Thursday morning.

A lack of progress has led to disillusionment from some countries. Leaders of Albania and Serbia even considered not attending the meeting, but agreed to join the meeting eventually.

But Ukraine’s fast track to formal candidate status has increased their feeling of being sidelined. That is a big risk for the EU as Russia and China could take the opportunity to extend their influence in the region.

German Chancellor Scholz said that the EU must “reform its internal procedures” to prepare for the accession of new members. He particularly singled out the need for key issues to be agreed with a qualified majority rather than by unanimity.

The requirement for unanimity often congests EU ambitions because member states can block decisions or reduce them to the lowest common denominator.

Despite some major crises in recent years, including a wave of migration, Brexit and the rise of nationalism, the European Union remains popular. According to a European Parliament survey, nearly two thirds of Europeans call EU membership a “good thing”, the highest result in 15 years.

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