KYIV: Ukraine on Thursday said it was “waiting for the green light” to receive EU candidacy status as European leaders met in Brussels to discuss Kyiv’s future, four months into the Russian invasion.
“We are waiting for the green light, Ukraine has earned candidate status,” the head of the Ukrainian presidency Andriy Yermak said on Telegram.
He added that Ukraine’s goal is “full membership in the EU.” “We will be ready to start implementing the plan from the European Commission to start negotiations on this.”
Yermak called the EU summit “historic.” Ukraine has demanded that its candidacy status should be pushed forward since Moscow invaded in late February, with fighting raging especially in the east of he country. Ukraine had a pro-EU revolution in 2014 that overthrew a Moscow-backed government.
“Today the EU is sending a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine that you belong to the European family, that you belong to the EU,” Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on arrival for the summit.
The move will kick-start the EU’s most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War.
“All the people in Ukraine are watching and waiting for this decision,” said Ivan Zichenko, a 34-year-old Ukrainian from the war-shredded city of Kharkiv, who now lives in Brussels.
“It’s very, very important to raise their morale,” he said as a few dozen people chanted “Ukraine is Europe” at a rally outside the Brussels building where EU leaders were meeting.
Behind the triumphant rhetoric, however, there is concern within the EU about how the bloc can remain coherent as it continues to enlarge.
After starting in 1951 as an organisation of six countries to regulate industrial production, the EU now has 27 members that face complex challenges from climate change and the rise of China to a war on their own doorstep.The EU’s expected green light “is a signal to Moscow that Ukraine, and also other countries from the former Soviet Union, cannot belong to the Russian spheres of influence,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Chentsov Vsevolod, said.
“There are Ukrainian soldiers calling home from the front line and asking: what is happening with our candidate status? It’s amazing how important it is for Ukrainian people.”
While Ukraine and Moldova are expected to be welcomed into the EU’s waiting room, Georgia will be given “a European perspective” but told it must fulfil conditions before winning candidate status.
Reticence over EU enlargement has slowed progress towards membership for a group of Balkans countries — Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — whose leaders met their EU counterparts in Brussels in the morning.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said as he arrived at a meeting with EU leaders ahead of the bloc’s summit: “Welcome to Ukraine, it’s a good thing to give candidate status, but I hope the Ukrainian people will not have much illusions about this.”
A draft of the summit statement showed that EU leaders will again give “full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans”.
But Ukraine’s fast track to formal candidate status has only served to increase their feeling of being sidelined, which carries the risk for the EU that Russia and China extend their influence into the Balkan region.
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022