Commission to seek EU candidate status for war-torn Ukraine – POLITICO

The European Commission will recommend granting Ukraine formal EU candidate status, according to several officials familiar with the deliberations during a debate among commissioners on Monday.

The debate in the College of Commissioners followed a surprise visit on Saturday by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Kyiv, where she discussed Ukraine’s candidacy with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It was von der Leyen’s second trip to the Ukrainian capital since the full-scale Russian invasion began in late February.

Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have argued for official recognition as an EU candidate country, saying the designation would provide a valuable wartime morale boost. They repeatedly noted that since the Maidan revolution of 2013-2014, Ukrainian citizens have repeatedly risked their lives – and indeed thousands have now perished – fighting for a free and democratic future in the EU.

Officials familiar with the debate between the commissioners said there was a keen awareness of the sacrifices made by Ukrainians and a clear recognition of the need to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he has lost his chance to recover Ukraine in its supposed sphere of influence.

“The Commission does not forget that Ukraine is the only country in Europe where people have died, where people have been shot because they were in the street carrying EU flags,” said a senior official. “Now we can’t tell them, ‘sorry guys, you were waving the wrong flags.'”

Recognizing Ukraine as a candidate country ultimately requires the unanimous approval of the 27 heads of state and government of the European Council, who are expected to address the issue at a summit in Brussels next week. Officials and diplomats said at least three countries were still opposed.

Supporters of Ukraine’s bid have said any delay in granting candidate status would be deeply demoralizing for Ukraine, as invading Russian forces continue to occupy large swaths of southern and eastern Ukraine. east of the country and are pushing to conquer the entire eastern region of Donbass.

In recent weeks, some leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have suggested that it would be more useful to grant Ukraine some kind of interim status that strengthens its relationship with the EU. Macron said that even if Ukraine were recognized as a candidate country, it would take more than a decade under existing membership procedures for Ukraine to join the bloc.

Moldova and Georgia have also applied for candidate status, and officials said commissioners were generally supportive of Moldova, where a staunchly pro-EU government is now in place, but were less confident about it. regard to Georgia, which has suffered from pervasive political unrest and notable democratic backsliding in recent years.

When discussing candidate status for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, many EU officials and diplomats noted the sensitivity given the slow accession of Western Balkan countries, including the North Macedonia, which was declared a candidate country in 2005; Montenegro, which received the designation in 2008; and Serbia and Albania, which were recognized as candidates in 2009.

Monday’s debate between commissioners touched on broader questions related to what an enlarged EU might look like in the future, including whether there would continue to be a commissioner from each member state. The discussion also raised the possibility that at the next summit, some EU leaders will try to impose conditions on Ukraine’s candidacy or return to the idea of ​​granting a new designation which stops before the official application.

An Elysee official echoed Macron’s comments that candidate status, if granted, was just the start of a much longer process.

“Once Ukraine potentially gets candidate status, we also have to see when the negotiation will open,” the official said. “And you know that the methodology of EU accession provides for negotiation by chapters and reversible negotiation according to the evolution of the country. Therefore, there are demands that correspond to EU standards and anyway, these will be very demanding for Ukraine.

France currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU and, as such, has a key role in the preparation of the European Council debate.

“I remind you,” added the French official, “all the other candidates … sometimes have been waiting for a very long time.”

In Kyiv, Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of the office of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, said officials were working in overdrive to convince EU governments that are still unconvinced that Kyiv should gain candidate status at next week’s summit.

“We really deserve the next logical step, which is candidate status,” Zhovkva told POLITICO. “It’s far from being a member. It does not even open accession negotiations. We deserve that, at least.

He added: “When you ask Ukrainian soldiers who are fighting somewhere in Donbass or in southern Ukraine against Russian aggression, ‘Do you want to be part of the European Union family?’ They say, ‘Yes, definitely. Because that’s what I’m fighting for. I am not only fighting for Ukraine, I am fighting for European values. I fight against [Russian] aggression in Europe.

Zhovkva also insisted, “We will not accept any alternatives or compromises as some leaders tell us, or deviations from this candidate status.”

Christopher Miller in Kyiv contributed reporting.

This article has been updated.


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