kyiv’s bid tests the EU’s ability to absorb more members

kyiv's bid tests the EU's ability to absorb more members

the war of Vladimir Putin has caused an unprecedented acceleration in the traditionally slow machinery of the European Union. Decisions that just a few weeks ago seemed inconceivable now become reality. At the summit that begins this Thursday in Brussels, the heads of state and government of the 27 plan to grant to Ukraineunanimously and with hardly any discussion, the status of a candidate country to enter the community club.

European leaders will also recognize neighboring Moldova, which is also in the Kremlin’s sights, as a candidate country. Only Georgia remains off the hook of this historical moment for having regressed in terms of democratic standards.

kyiv thus advances to the exit box in the accession process, which in any case will take years or even decades. His candidacy tests the EU’s ability to absorb new members. With its more than 40 million inhabitants, Ukraine would become the fifth most populous country in the EU, behind Germany, France, Italy and Spain and ahead of Poland. An accession that will profoundly alter the balance of power within the Union and shift its center of gravity to the East.

[Bruselas recomienda conceder a Ucrania el estatus de país candidato a la UE pero con condiciones]

The granting of candidate status (a process that normally takes years) has been completed in record time. Volodymyr Zelensky He signed the application for entry on February 28, four days after the outbreak of the war. With his entry into NATO ruled out for the time being, the Ukrainian president has turned his candidacy for the EU into a emblem of his fight against the Kremlin.

From the first minute, Zelensky had the support of Poland and the Baltics, who are in the front line of the clash with Moscow. But he has managed to convince even the most skeptical. The last to yield have been the French Emmanuel Macron and the german Olaf Scholz, who announced their change of position during their visit to kyiv last week. Later, the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyenpublished a positive opinion, which ended up decanting the most recalcitrant undecided, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Why has this flip occurred? “Simply because we support Ukraine and because it is a political and strategic imperative, but also a moral one. That is what has changed”, summed up the new French foreign minister on Monday, Catherine Colonna. It is a “manifestation of strength, unity and support for a country attacked by Russia“, agrees the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

There will be no more shortcuts

Thanks to this accelerated convergence, European leaders will approve Ukraine’s candidacy in a matter of minutes, instead of engaging in a stormy and divisive debate until the wee hours of the morning, as initially expected. The draft summit conclusions do not even spell out the seven preconditions imposed by Brussels in the fight against corruption and reinforcement of judicial independence.

Of course, once the starting box has been conquered, Heads of State and Government warn Ukraine that there will be no more shortcuts. To begin with, the government in kyiv will have to implement all the required reforms before the EU takes any further steps. Some reforms that Von der Leyen herself has admitted are especially difficult for a country at war.

“Each country’s progress towards the EU will depend on its own merits in meeting the Copenhagen (accession) criteria, including the EU’s ability to absorb new members”says the draft. A process that is always long and tortuous. Spain presented its candidacy in 1977, but did not become a full member until 1986. North Macedonia has had candidate status since 2004, but has not yet been able to start accession negotiations. And the dialogue with Turkey began in 2005 but has been paralyzed for years and its entry into the EU is increasingly unlikely.

In addition, the ability of the EU to absorb Ukraine, albeit in the long term, worries the members of the club and will focus a good part of the discussions in the European Council. “When you integrate a country of this size, the question of absorptive capacity arises. And it is an issue that will appear in the debates and in the conclusions,” explains a senior EU official.

“The entrance of A country with 40 million inhabitants will have a significant impact on the structure of the EU, the structure for example of the common agricultural policy or the structural funds. It will be necessary to make an adaptation that could even force a revision of the Treaties,” said the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Joao Gomes Cravinho.

The distribution of money and power

Effectively, the first question that arises is the cost of integration. Before the outbreak of the war, Ukraine’s GDP per capita was just 29.8% of the EU average. That means that kyiv would automatically become the main beneficiary of EU regional funds, to the detriment of Spain, Portugal or Greece. Ukraine is also one of the main European agricultural powers, which would absorb a good part of the CAP funds.

To this must be added the reconstruction costs after the war, which the president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), Werner Hoyer, estimates will amount to 1 trillion euros. The European leaders also plan to discuss during the summit a first emergency aid of 9,000 million so that the Government of kyiv can pay for essential public services and pay its officials in the coming months.

The second big issue will be the distribution of power, since both the distribution of seats in the European Parliament and the weight of each Member State in the Council of Ministers of the EU, which is the body where major decisions are made, depends on the population. After Brexit, the European Parliament reduced its number of seats from 751 to 705, but the entry of Ukraine would probably force the figures to be revised again. Germany has already made it known that it wants more MEPs in the new distribution.

The entry of new member states increases chances of blocking EU decision-making, especially in areas that require unanimity, such as foreign policy or taxes. For this reason, both Scholz and Von der Leyen propose ending national vetoes and adopting all decisions by qualified majority. A decision for which the unanimity of the Member States would be required. A square of the circle that right now seems impossible.

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