EU to grant Ukraine candidate status in blow to Moscow

BRUSSELS • European leaders met yesterday to formally accept Ukraine as a candidate to join the European Union - a bold geopolitical move triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but a reminder that the 27-nation bloc will need a major overhaul as it looks to enlarge again.

Although it could take Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova more than a decade to qualify for membership, the two-day EU summit decision will be a symbolic step that signals the bloc's intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union.

"Today, the EU is sending a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine that you belong to the European family, that you belong to the EU," said Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin upon arriving at the summit.

The move will kick-start the EU's most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War.

Behind the triumphant rhetoric, however, there is concern within the EU about how the bloc can remain coherent as it continues to enlarge. After starting in 1951 as an organisation of six countries to regulate industrial production, the EU now has 27 members that face complex challenges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his "special military operation" launched in Ukraine in late February was partly necessitated by Western encroachment into what Russia characterises as its rightful geographical sphere of influence.

While Ukraine and Moldova are expected to be welcomed into the EU's waiting room, Georgia will be given "a European perspective" but told that it must fulfil conditions before winning candidate status.

Reticence over EU enlargement has slowed progress towards membership for a group of Balkan countries - Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia - whose leaders met their EU counterparts in Brussels in the morning.

Ukraine's fast track to formal candidate status has only served to increase these Balkan nations' feeling of being sidelined, which carries the risk for the EU that Russia and China could extend their influence into the Balkan region.

Kosovan President Vjosa Osmani said: "The more the EU doesn't give a unified and a clear sign to the Western Balkans, the more other malign factors will use that space and that vacuum."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said this week that the EU must "reform its internal procedures" to prepare for the accession of new members, singling out the need for key issues to be agreed with a qualified majority rather than by unanimity.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2022, with the headline EU to grant Ukraine candidate status in blow to Moscow. Subscribe