Why Ukraine Deserves Fast-Tracked EU Membership

Markus Spiske via Unsplash
Markus Spiske via Unsplash

This week, Ukrainian President Zelensky signed an official application for membership of the European Union on behalf of his citizens. Commission President Von der Leyen, stated that Ukraine’s place is in the EU and the European Parliament adopted a call for EU candidate status. We wholeheartedly endorse this.

Signatories are a group of Renew MEPs in the European Parliament.*

The collective EU institutions should respond to President Zelensky by granting Ukraine formal candidate status as soon as possible. Every day, Ukrainians are fighting and dying for European values. The least they deserve is a credible perspective of membership. Along with military aid and humanitarian assistance, Ukraine needs hope: a vision of a shared future in the European community.

In several national capitals, the reactions were reticent, to say the least. There has been general reluctance towards EU enlargement for some time now and candidate countries have been in the waiting room for many years.

The traditional approach to the accession of new member states is to present a comprehensive, detailed and technical catalogue of criteria, and the accession process takes many years, even decades.

The criteria were initially designed to bring new countries on board smoothly, but over time the criteria have evolved into an obstacle race with an ever-moving finish line, perceived to rather keep countries out for as long as possible. As a result, disappointment and scepticism have been growing in the candidate countries as well, feeding the rhetoric of far-right parties.

The decision to start the accession process is political, not economic. It was offered to Spain, Portugal and Greece after the end of their dictatorships. It was offered to the central and eastern-European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Union membership is as much about confirming the future of a country and breaking with its past, as it is about economics.

The world of 2022 is completely different from the world of 1990. Indeed, between February 23rd and March 1st, the world has changed beyond recognition.

If the circumstances have changed dramatically, so should our approach. Enlargement of the Union in 2022 should be less rules-driven and technocratic but more strategy-driven, considering the political realities.

That does not mean lowering our standards in any way. The accession process should encompass more than just the particular moment of accession, but rather permanent adjustment and improvement of all member states.

To that effect, the EU has to drastically enhance and demonstrate its ability to uphold and enforce its standards. The European Commission must be strengthened as the independent arbiter, exercising strict oversight and enforcing, treating all member states equally, new or old, east or west, north or south, big or small.

Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union states that “Any European country” can apply for membership, provided it will respect the European values laid down in Art 2 and that it is committed to promoting those values.

It would appear that Ukraine amply meets those three criteria. Ukrainians are literally fighting, risking their lives, for democracy and the rule of law, at a very critical moment for the entire European continent.

Bringing countries on the Western Balkans, Moldova or Georgia under the EU umbrella is also a matter of long-term strategy and strengthening the EU. It has been often stated that those European countries should not be left to drift towards Putin’s Russia. That view has been proven largely correct now.

We can understand the sceptics who point out the risks and unintended consequences of deciding on Ukraine’s candidacy status right now. But, as with any such decision, one must also consider the costs of indecision.

Vladimir Putin attempts to re-write the European order and extend his sphere of influence. Now Ukraine’s President and his nation under siege from Russian tanks and missiles are asking Europe to open its doors.

Can we really allow ourselves to reply “let’s talk in a few years”?

Exceptional times call for exceptional vision and courage. In the past couple of days a raft of taboos has been broken, at breath-taking speed.

For our own security, freedom and prosperity, we must have the courage to break one more taboo. Enlargement of the European Union has arguably been the most successful “soft power” tool to ensure peace and stability on our continent.

It is thanks to the courage and foresight of the European leaders of the early nineties that today countries like Poland, Romania, Lithuania, or Hungary are able and willing to welcome refugees, join in sanctions against Russia, and defend the interests of us all.

Never more than this week, it is clear that “soft power” in reality is very much “hard power”. Taking a big leap into the unknown and joining forces on the European continent has always paid off. Let us seize the momentum and make our Union bigger, stronger and more united. Future generations will reap the benefits.

*Sophie In ‘t Veld Renew Europe MEP, Petras Auštrevičius, Renew Europe MEP, Michal Šimečka, Renew Europe MEP, Ilhan Kyuchyuk, Renew Europe MEP, Dragoș Tudorache, Renew Europe MEP

The article was originally published at EURACTIV at: https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/opinion/why-ukraine-deserves-fast-tracked-eu-membership/

All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network

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