Jyotpreet Kaur, law student at the National Law University in Delhi, India discusses Ukraine's candidate status with the European Union...
On June 23, 2022, in a “historic moment” for Kyiv, Ukraine was granted candidate status by the European Union (EU) in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Apart from being a geopolitical step, this move manifests the fact that the West has rallied behind Ukraine against the invasion by Russian forces. Moldova also officially entered the race for membership, indicating that the EU intends to expand its influence throughout the former Soviet Union. This attempt by the West comes at a time when Russian forces have closed in on the eastern parts of Ukraine in what has been termed a “fearsome climax” and there is rising uncertainty in the global market on account of restrictions imposed by Russia in gas and grain exports.
What Does Candidate Status Mean?
Candidate Status is offered to any European country that is applying to become a member state of the EU after deliberations and based on the opinion of the European Commission, the executive body of the EU. Accession to the EU is governed by the Copenhagen Criteria, which lays out certain political, economic and administrative criteria that need to be fulfilled by countries intending to join the EU. Additionally, Article 49 of the Maastricht Treaty provides the legal foundation for accession to the EU. It says that any “European state” that respects the “principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law” as laid down in Article 2 of the Treaty, may apply to join the EU.
What this implies for Ukraine is that it still has a long way to go before completely joining the EU. This move is merely a morale-booster at the moment. Furthermore, Ukraine is not the only nation that has applied to become a full-fledged member of the EU. Turkey, which applied for Candidate Status in 1987, was only given such status in 1999, and since then there have been no talks with respect to the Turkish accession to the EU. Apart from this, Ukraine would still be behind Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania (they have all had Candidate Status for years now) in the queue for membership. Meeting the requirements for accession would be difficult for Ukraine, as the country is characterized by a deeply defective system marred with corruption, which it inherited from the erstwhile Soviet Union.
What Does This Entail for Ukraine?
The granting of Candidate Status is not a guarantee of full-fledged membership in the EU, but it is in fact a model response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine over the past four months. This move is a demonstration of European solidarity toward the Ukrainian cause and can be viewed as a threat to Moscow, given Moscow’s fear of the “westernization” of Ukraine.
Ukraine applied to become a member on February 28, 2022, after only four days of the Russian invasion. This is a step to establish Ukraine as a sovereign nation separate from the Russian state in addition to the assurance of economic benefits and security that come with membership. Accession to the EU is no easy task. It comes with its own set of prerequisites, which need to be satisfied to convert a state’s status from a candidate state to a member state. This set of standards and conditions is constantly evolving and is termed acquis. Ukraine has been working on adopting it since it signed the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement in 2014, which established free trade between the two parties.
The most grueling step in obtaining membership in the Union is the “negotiations.” The negotiations entail the candidate country adopting the criteria set in the Copenhagen Criteria, as well as negotiating certain benefits given that it will be conceding a part of its sovereignty to the bloc. Some criteria included in the Copenhagen Criteria are a free market economy with healthy competition, stability of institutions and ensuring the rule of law.
Ukraine inherited a crippled economy in the aftermath of its separation from the Soviet Union in 1991, with the previously publicly owned resources being distributed among family members of bureaucrats and politicians. This led to the establishment of oligopolies in the political and economic spheres, which has hindered the rule of law. Additionally, Ukraine was unable to diversify its trade practices from agricultural goods, unlike other Eastern European states that separated from the Soviet Union.
What the Candidate Status entails for Ukraine is that it will have to take steps to ensure that the public Ukrainian sectors that are marred with corruption and anti-competitive practices be privatized and sold to legitimate buyers to reduce monopolies. Ukraine needs to establish an independent judiciary for the rule of law to prevail so that it is able to meet the essentials necessary for joining the EU. Ukraine will have to demonstrate that it is capable of implementing the Acquis Communautaire and will be able to conform to the ideals that EU member states are required to uphold.
Russian Reaction to Ukraine’s Candidate Status
Russia has maintained a very mixed stance on Ukraine’s desire to join the EU, which is in contrast to the hostility it has demonstrated when it comes to Ukrainian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, when asked about the possible Candidate Status being granted to Ukraine said, “We have no objections,” but this has not been a clear message. Russia’s ambassador to the bloc, Vladimir A. Chizhov, said that such candidature would be “hostile to national interests.” Russia has not shown a clear animus toward the possibility of Ukraine becoming a member, given that the EU, unlike NATO, is not a military organization.
Russia previously objected to the assimilation of Ukraine with NATO because of its fear of Western influence in Ukraine and subsequently “Mother Russia.” Russia might not be as open to the idea of Ukrainian assimilation into the EU, as that would entail a shift to democracy that ultimately threatens Putin.
The road to membership in the EU is not without hurdles for Ukraine. Many countries of the EU have been wary of the expansion of the bloc and want to avoid situations like Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004 and has been in conflict with the EU ever since Prime Minister Viktor Orban took over. Furthermore, making sudden changes to the way the Ukrainian nation has been functioning would prove to be fatalistic for the nation. Thus, integrating Ukraine gradually into the political and economic conditions necessary for membership in the EU becomes paramount. The European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement is a good instrument for implementing the same. It provides a flexible legal framework for politico-economic changes in Ukraine and can be easily adopted by the Ukrainian government. The grant of Candidate Status to Ukraine has also been met with frustration from the Balkan states, which have been awarded the same status but have remained candidates with no further action to become member states.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been vocal about Ukraine belonging to the EU. She has spoken about financial aid to Ukraine to ensure its assimilation into the bloc. In the end, the step to grant candidature to Ukraine is an indication for Russia that its zone of influence over its eastern neighbour is no longer applicable.
Jyotpreet Kaur is a first-year student at the National Law University in Delhi, India.
Suggested citation: Jyotpreet Kaur, EU Candidate Status for Ukraine and Its Subsequent Implications, JURIST – Student Commentary, July 1, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/07/jyotpreet-kaur-candidate-status-european-union-ukraine/.
This article was prepared for publication by Rebekah Yeager-Malkin, Deputy Commentary Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to she/her/hers at email@example.com
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