Explainer: Why Ukraine’s request to join is a big test for the EU

WHY LACK OF CONSENSUS?

The internal consensus underpinning this dual-track approach to EU progress had weakened years before Russia invaded Ukraine.

The eurozone debt crisis that erupted in 2010, a wave of mass migration in 2015, and the UK’s surprising 2016 referendum decision to leave the EU all contributed to the EU’s nervousness to expand its ranks.

So did the growth of Eurosceptic political forces in many member countries, including Germany, France, and Italy. Some EU nations have accused the governments in Berlin, Paris and Rome of showing insufficient political support for Ukraine while defending itself from Russia.

A visit to Kyiv by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis could help counter such criticism.

CANDIDATE STATUS

The leaders’ meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday coincided with the European Commission’s behind-the-scenes negotiations on the forthcoming opinion on whether Ukraine deserves candidate status.

A group of EU countries that included Poland wants maximum support for Ukraine, while others, such as the Netherlands, favor a more cautious stance.

The commission also plans to issue its recommendations for Georgia and Moldova, which rushed to apply to join the EU in March.

The extent to which Ukraine’s request for accelerated accession represents a change in the EU’s standard operating procedure is evident from the experiences of other aspiring members.

Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to begin actual entry talks. Only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed in the years since, and the entire process is at a standstill as a result of several disputes between the EU and Turkey.

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