Are Ukraine and the EU ready for integration?

French President Emmanuel Macron (L), European Council President Charles Michel (C) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R) speak during a press conference during a summit of the EU in Brussels, June 23, 2022. / CFP

French President Emmanuel Macron (L), European Council President Charles Michel (C) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (R) speak during a press conference during a summit of the EU in Brussels, June 23, 2022. / CFP

Editor’s note: Freddie Reidy is a London-based freelance writer. He studied history and art history at the University of Kent, Canterbury, specializing in Russian history and international politics. The article reflects the opinions of the author, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The granting of European Union (EU) candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova may have an important symbolism for both nations, but what would this significant expansion mean for the EU in the future?

While the origins of the EU can be traced back to six founding members establishing common standards on industrial processes, the organization grew into a larger trading bloc before evolving again by establishing a political structure with jurisdiction over all member states. .

The journey has not been without difficulties, times of economic hardship often cause frustration in the most economically developed countries as they feel they are subsidizing their poorer neighbours. Poorer members are also witnessing an increasing centralization of economic power as a result of the centralization of aid.

Political centralization has also caused major problems, including the UK’s exit from the EU and its recent disputes with Poland over judicial sovereignty.

Ukraine’s transition to full membership will require significant reforms of several structures, in particular justice, rule of law and anti-corruption measures. Prior to the war, the country had faced deep struggles in these areas, with Transparency International for example ranking Ukraine 122nd out of 188 countries, and there had also been widespread political instability with many short-lived governments.

For Ukraine, the question is: is the country ready to adopt far-reaching reforms to join the EU or does it only view membership in terms of defence?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that the granting of candidate status was “a unique and historic moment”. French President Emmanuel Macron focused his remarks on the impact that candidate status would have in the context of the conflict, announcing the strength of Brussels to “react in a rapid, historic and united manner through sanctions, macroeconomic support, military and financial to Ukraine, and now this political gesture.”

Ukraine and Moldova can formally embark on the path to membership, but it is not a quick process. What President Zelenkyy’s Chief of Staff, Ihor Zhovka, acknowledged while speaking to Bloomberg, “a lot will depend on Ukraine. A lot will certainly depend on Ukraine winning the war.”

Nevertheless, the marriage of the end of the conflict and EU membership seems fraught with pitfalls. Brussels wants the issue resolved as soon as possible, active conflicts and border disputes are not something the bloc has faced in its history.

EU Leaders’ Summit held in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23, 2022. /CFP

EU Leaders’ Summit held in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23, 2022. /CFP

The EU also does not have an official army, peacekeeping efforts should be coordinated between the most militarized powers of the blocs, but also with those outside the Union, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Such necessities would lead either nations with larger armed forces to wield outsized influence, which works against the unity of the bloc. Creating an EU army would take a lot of time and money. Help from foreign allies would also bring the EU into the US sphere of influence at a time when Brussels is charting its own course on the international stage.

With the possible rise of Ukraine and Moldova, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hinted that Brussels needed to “reform its internal procedures”. Such democratic reform within the bloc will become more essential to avoid a political deadlock on major issues caused by a greater diversity of opinions and priorities. Hence the need to seek unanimity in favor of a majority. The recent fiscal freezes in Hungary and Poland on domestic issues have demonstrated the risks of the current model.

It should be remembered that part of Russia’s justification for launching the “special military operation” was due to Moscow’s concerns about encroachment by Western nations in the region. A cessation of hostilities seems unlikely if it leads to Ukraine’s full EU membership.

While EU membership would bring economic benefits to conflict-ridden Ukraine, the bid was made in response to the crisis. Ukraine must appreciate the long-term consequences and assess whether the will of the people is there for the long term. Brussels should ask itself if it is ready for expansion and the myriad political and social problems it presents. The EU does not replace the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and should not be seen as a defense device if it is to prosper.

(If you would like to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions Twitter for the latest comments in CGTN’s Opinion section.)

About Michael G. Walter

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