BRUSSELS, Belgium — In June 2022, Ukraine obtained the European Union (EU) candidate status, only a few months after applying to become an EU member State on February 2022. In light of the current invasion, the granting of the candidate status is showing a positive message to Ukraine, proving that it is on the right path toward European integration. In fact, a large number of the Ukrainian people have been in favor of closer ties with the European Union and its Member States. The pro-EU revolution of Euromaidan, which started in 2013, is an example of such appeal and desire to get closer to European partners in the west of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the European Union is strongly supporting Ukraine, sending weapons and humanitarian aid and welcoming Ukraine refugees all around its Member States.
The Desire of Ukraine to Integrate into the EU
The relations between the European Community and Ukraine started on 2 December 1991, right after the desire of the Ukrainian people to be independent of the USSR had been expressed in a referendum. Since then, the two parties concluded several agreements to strengthen their relationship, such as the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement ratified in September 2014.
An association agreement is a basis for the implementation of the EU accession process. The Euromaidan protests in November 2013 illustrated the desire of Ukrainians, especially the youngest generation, to join the European Project. The refusal of president Viktor Yanukovych to ratify the Associate Agreement after two years of negotiations with the EU was a step back in the EU accession process of Ukraine and several protests erupted in Ukraine on November 2013.
A few months later, the Revolution of Dignity led to the ousting of Yanukovych and to new elections. The interim government signed the EU Association Agreement a few months after on, paving the way to a new priority for Ukraine: strengthening its ties with the EU.
In February 2022, Ukraine applied to join the EU, which is another step forward in the EU integration of the country. Obtaining the EU candidate status in June 2022, only a few months after the application and the beginning of the Russian invasion is not only symbolic but also illustrates the path of Ukraine to fulfill the criteria needed to become an EU Member State.
As Dmytro Zolotukhin, former Ukrainian Deputy Minister on Information Policy, told The Borgen Project in an interview, “Ukraine is returning home to where it belongs to be as a part of greater Europe after the violent separation from European family by the appearance of empires on the territory of Europe.”
The Benefits of the EU Candidate Status for Ukraine’s Resilience
Candidacy status is the first of the three major steps for each country willing to join the EU. Obtaining such status allows Ukraine to start the accession negotiations before proceeding to the accession treaty ratification. Nevertheless, each candidate country receives financial and technical assistance from the EU to fulfill the EU criteria and to conclude the 35 acquis chapters necessary to enter the EU. The pre-accession assistance is about €14.162 billion within the 2021-2027 EU Budget.
Furthermore, according to Zolotukhin, “the EU candidate status is a certain milestone for the Ukrainian society that still needs changes in terms of corruption countering, law supremacy, etc. The EU Candidate Status will be the instrument that can push Ukrainian authorities to do the changes faster, despite of war. And to achieve results of these changes after Ukrainian military victory.”
Indeed, EU Candidate status will increase Ukraine’s development and the ability of the country to rebuild and restructure itself after the end of the war. The support of the EU in the accession process of Ukraine through its financial and technical assistance will be very useful for Ukraine to rebuild the country and to implement necessary reforms for EU integration.
A Symbolic Step
For Zolotukhin, the EU candidate status is also “a very symbolic step that shows that Ukrainians are fighting not only for their freedom and independence but in the broad view, for European values and for the ability of the EU member states to practice these European values, which is being paid by Ukrainian lives.” The dedication of the Ukrainian society to European values and the European project shows that the EU candidate status of Ukraine is an important signal that the EU sent to Ukraine and its victory in this war. The impact of the EU candidate status on Ukraine’s resilience cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to helping Ukraine to fulfill EU criteria.
However, European integration is a long and hard way for Ukraine, as the country now needs to close the 35 acquis chapters that are necessary to integrate the EU. Zolotukhin does not expect Ukraine to join the EU very soon, “Regarding the dynamics of the European decisions I do not expect intensive integration.” According to him, “the integration of Ukraine into the EU would require huge changes not only in Ukraine but in the EU as well.”
Ukraine’s Resilience Tool During the War?
Ukraine is at war. The country needs weapons and military help to defeat the Russian forces. When it comes to weapons, Zolotukhin underlines the fact that “the EU Candidate Status cannot help or prevent getting them.” The priority for Ukraine is to restore peace and security within its borders, before starting to use the EU candidate status to increase its resilience in other fields, such as economic and social reforms. “Before the national security of Ukraine and the EU is not restored by defeating Russia on the battlefield, unfortunately, we cannot work on the other issues of the EU candidate status,” Zolotukhin explained.
To put it in a nutshell, there is no other future for Ukraine than to increase its integration with the EU. However, the EU candidate status will only be helpful to strengthen the resilience of Ukraine once the war is over. In fact, Ukraine needs weapons and military aid, which the EU candidate status can’t guarantee. It only provides financial and technical assistance in fulfilling EU criteria and closing the 35 acquis chapters. Granting EU candidate status for Ukraine’s resilience is just the first step of the EU integration process of Ukraine, which will undoubtedly increase Ukraine’s resilience and Europe itself.
– Evan Da Costa Marques