(CNN) – Four days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and started a bloody war that shows no signs of ending soon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has formally applied for his country’s membership in the European Union, a move that could anger Putin.
On the same day, February 28, Zelensky called on the EU to “urgently accept Ukraine through a new procedure … Our goal is to be with all Europeans and to be on an equal footing with them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure what is maybe “.
Almost four months later, the European Commission is expected to give its opinion on Friday on whether Ukraine should be considered a candidate country. After that, it will be the 27 member states of the European Union that decide whether or not to agree with the Commission’s opinion.
The question of whether Ukraine should join the European Union and how Russia would react has been a contentious issue for years. In 2013, pro-European protests erupted after the former Ukrainian president made a surprise decision not to sign an agreement with the European Union to bring Ukraine into the bloc’s orbit. Instead, he opted for closer ties with Putin’s Russia.
The following year, Russia invaded Donbass and illegally annexed the Crimea.
Although most European countries strongly support Ukraine and assisted, to a greater or lesser extent, Zelensky in his war effort, it is by no means certain that his wish would be fulfilled.
For political and procedural reasons, the EU may eventually decide that the time is not right. Even if they agree with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s view that Ukraine’s membership should be considered, it could take years, even decades, for that to become a reality.
These are the reasons.
What is the EU accession process?
On paper, the process is relatively straightforward. The state submits its application and the committee makes a ruling on whether or not its application should be considered. As is likely for Ukraine, the Commission will likely devise different ways for member states to accept a new candidate.
It is believed that the commission will offer two options with respect to Ukraine, which basically amount to the same thing, with some minor differences: that Ukraine’s accession will not properly begin until the war is over and state institutions are able to meet the standards. required to enter the European Union.
The Copenhagen Criteria are three rather vague requirements that the EU must consider satisfied in order for a candidate country to properly enter into accession negotiations. They focus on whether the country has a functioning free market economy, whether the state’s institutions are sufficient to support European values such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law, and whether the country has a functioning inclusive democracy.
Once a country is deemed to meet these criteria, it will be able to start 35 chapters of EU negotiations, the last three of which deal with some areas of the Copenhagen criteria.
Later, when the leaders of the EU member states reach an agreement, it must be ratified in the European Parliament and by the legislative authorities of the governments of each member state.
What do EU countries think about Ukraine’s accession?
This is where things start to get complicated. Although the European Union and its 27 members have largely supported Ukraine in its war effort, the fact that a country at war begins the accession process poses all kinds of problems.
There are a number of candidate countries that have been in the accession process for years and, in some cases, have seen their accession decline due to internal political instability. An example of this is the case of Turkey, whose application was practically frozen for fear of a setback in the rule of law and human rights. Starting the process with a country currently at war will raise questions from other candidate countries that have seen their applications similarly frozen.
There is also concern that Ukraine is still a long way from meeting the Copenhagen criteria in the near future. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine ranks 122nd in its list of 180 countries. By comparison, Russia ranks 136th. Given that parts of Ukraine are currently occupied by Russia and can take a long time after the war is over, it is difficult to predict whether this will improve or worsen in the coming years. Some EU officials also expressed concerns that after the war, it would be difficult to know the human rights situation in Ukraine.
Besides these practical issues, there are also political objections. Some Western member states that have been in the European Union from the start are concerned about the balance of power shifting to the east, with some countries falling back on matters such as the rule of law in recent years. The European ruling class has had to deal with Hungary and Poland, who have played to the point of EU rules, learning the hard way that they can get away with just entering any country.
Other member states are concerned that Ukraine will join the bloc and immediately consume a huge amount of the EU budget due to the massive reconstruction that will have to be carried out.
Some simply express concern that drawing Ukraine into long and painful negotiations with the European Union is not the best way to support the country at the moment.
How long will it take?
It really depends on what state Ukraine is in when the war ends. It seems unlikely that Ukraine will come close to meeting the criteria even to start negotiations for any length of time after the war has ended. Regardless of the reconstruction project, Ukraine will have to transition from a country operating under varying degrees of martial law and curfews to a functioning democracy.
The average time it takes for a country to join the European Union is four years and 10 months, according to a London-based think tank in the United Kingdom on Changing Europe. The member states that could be considered a model for Ukraine’s accession – Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Slovenia – have exceeded the average waiting time.
What does EU membership mean for Ukraine?
Ukraine will be a member of the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU’s single market and customs union, and will have the protection of EU courts and access to the EU budget.
Membership of the European Union would very clearly place Ukraine in the club of countries that consider themselves part of the Western alliance and the global order led by the United States.
How will Russia react?
Moscow has already said that joining the EU would be like joining NATO, a point on which it is hard to argue now that the EU is openly geopolitical.
Russia has already responded very poorly to the suggestion that Finland and Sweden, EU member states, might join NATO. Seeing Ukraine embraced by a Western-linked institution would undoubtedly be seen as an act of aggression on Putin’s part.
What are the chances of success of Ukraine’s candidacy?
It won’t happen soon, but the EU will likely make a special effort to support Ukraine after Russia’s invasion of it.
Many European leaders went to visit Zelensky in Kyiv, and some officials feel they cannot leave the leaders’ summit on June 24 empty-handed after taking pictures with a real wartime president.
If von der Leyen presents his version to the member states with reservations about accepting Ukraine’s candidacy, it will be difficult for the EU to reject it outright.
But the European Union has a long history of doing unexpected things, even during this crisis. More often than not, these discussions turn into a war of attrition between countries unable to agree, before being left in the long grass for another day.