Andrew Duff is a former Member of the European Parliament. His new book, “Constitutional Change in the European Union”, is to be published soon by Palgrave.
The European Commission is currently drafting its formal opinion on Ukraine’s emergency application for membership of the European Union.
While on an emotional level the bloc’s response to the bid has been warm, upon receiving the document, which is expected to land in June, the European Council must put compassion aside. When it comes to the future of enlargement, leaders need to be lucid and self-critical, as the public needs to remember what the formal procedures for EU membership are and why they are needed.
The surprise candidacy of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova is the perfect opportunity to finally drop the pretense that the EU will always admit new countries to membership when they claim to be ready – a fiction that has hampered positive developments in the Western Balkans for years and ended with Turkey, a candidate since 1999, out of reach.
The bulk of the Commission’s opinion will focus on Ukraine’s ineligibility to be declared an acceding country under the current rules. Even before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was a very poor country, its GDP per capita less than half that of Bulgaria. Since its association agreement with the EU in 2014, progress has been slow, with the country’s integration into the single market stalled because it failed to meet EU governance standards.
The fact is that Ukraine simply does not have the capacity to take on the burden of EU membership. And in his opinion, the Commission will have to warn that even if Kyiv is right to apply for membership, in practice its accession process will take at least a laborious decade.
Another part of the enlargement puzzle is the EU’s own capacity to absorb newcomers. Anyone who knows how the Brussels institutions work, that is, without a strong government, cannot be convinced that the EU is suited to internalize the national problem of Ukraine.
Just look at how the EU is already struggling to cope with its current members when they challenge the rule of law and reject the balance of rights and obligations implicit in the quasi-federal pact. And while the re-election of French President Emmanuel Macron means EU treaty reform is back on the agenda, it will also be a long and delicate process – not a magic bullet for Ukraine.
No doubt the promise of eventual EU membership would be valuable to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but the last thing he needs now is to get lost in the undergrowth of the acquis communautaireall the legislation, legal acts and court decisions which make up the body of Union law.
Emerging from the conflict with Russia, Ukraine will likely have to deal with high-tension nationalism combined with great impatience for European integration.
Pious hopes and muted false hopes from Brussels are not a good basis for Ukraine’s recovery. Instead, the EU had better offer kyiv something that brings real political benefits that can be delivered quickly.
In this sense, the introduction of a new category of Affiliate Members would broaden the instruments available to the EU, helping it to assume its growing responsibilities in the wider European neighbourhood.
Affiliate member countries should be bound to respect the values on which the EU is founded (Article 2), as well as its position in international affairs (Article 21), and they would undertake to develop a privileged partnership with the Union (section 8) . However, they would not be obliged to subscribe to the objectives of political, economic and monetary union.
For Ukraine, becoming an Affiliate Member would be an improvement on its current Association Agreement, implying stronger functional links between Kyiv and the executive, legislative and judicial institutions of the EU. It should also include participation in qualified majority voting by the Council on any single market rules applicable to its affiliate status.
More importantly, on the basis of a favorable and imaginative opinion from the Commission, an affiliation treaty could be quickly proposed to Ukraine. And the concept of affiliate member would then be codified and installed in the EU Treaties during their next (imminent) revision.
For some affiliates, such as Ukraine, this partial membership would be seen as a step towards full membership. For other third countries, notably the UK, affiliate status could potentially provide a convenient and permanent parking spot. And some current members, namely Hungary, could even take refuge, via Article 50, in being relegated to affiliate status — almost like a way of distressan evacuation ramp on an alpine pass.
Then there is the issue of security. We know that Ukraine will not join NATO, and applying for EU membership does not guarantee military security. As such, membership in the affiliated EU should also be underpinned by an invitation to participate in a new European Security Council – an intergovernmental body at the apex of the Western security architecture emerging from the crisis.
This Security Council could bridge the historic gap between the two Brussels-based organizations of the EU and NATO, helping the former to act militarily and the latter to think strategically – and its top priority would be to provide Ukraine a sure defense against any further Russian aggression. .
We know that Ukraine’s full membership in the EU is not achievable, nor will membership help solve its current predicament. However, by acting quickly in June, European leaders, backed by the United States, finally have the opportunity to strengthen the Union’s constitution, relaunch NATO and restore Ukraine, all in one go. one shot.