«It must be proved that we’re fighting corruption.» What should Ukraine expect from candidacy in the EU

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The forthcoming EU summit on June 23 and 24 will consider granting Ukraine candidate status for EU membership. We asked experts what the status of a candidate for EU membership means, what it gives to Ukraine and when Ukraine will be able to become a full member of the European Union.

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What does candidate status and membership in the European Union mean?

Granting the status of a candidate for membership in the European Union is rather a procedural decision. It will crystallize the road map for membership – certain steps that Ukraine will need to take, explains political scientist and vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Dmytro Sherenhovskyi.

«Candidate status is a necessary step on the path to membership. Thus, the procedure takes place, it is quite official, prescribed. This is partly a political decision, but more of a procedural one. Membership cannot be obtained without candidate status – this is the first moment. Such a decision, if it is positive, opens the possibility for the Council of the European Union, and each country in particular, to vote for granting this status to Ukraine,» – he said.

After receiving the candidate status, consultations will begin on reforming production processes, distribution of goods, and legislation.

«Secondly, after obtaining the status of a candidate, consultations will only begin on what issues should be carried out various reforms in order to be fully integrated into the European system. And this is not only a question of trade and economic relations, but actually entering the EU internal market. This means that certain processes of production, distribution of goods or provision of certain services must comply with the rules of the internal market, according to which all other member states live. The issue of legislation is also important: it is necessary that the legislation of Ukraine does not contradict the norms that exist within the European Union,» – the vice-rector explains.

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Ukraine’s compliance with the EU politically, economically, culturally and socially is very important for Europeans. Natalia Haletska, a deputy of the Lviv regional council and chair of the commission on foreign cooperation, says that candidate status will allow Ukraine to become a member of the EU, so it is worth getting it in spite of everything. In addition, it will give us access to many European funds.

«It’s important to obtain candidate status, as it formally allows Ukraine to apply for membership and thus gain access to the European Structural Funds. This is an extremely large number of different opportunities in the European Union. For example, in the educational space, it would be interesting for Ukrainian educational institutions to be able to obtain mobility under the Erasmus program. Currently, Ukrainian educational institutions can apply for this only in partnership with European ones, which significantly narrows their opportunities. There are also other structural funds to which Ukraine could apply, where separate funds could also be created for the development and reconstruction of Ukraine. These are the opportunities that Ukraine can get as a candidate for EU membership,» – the deputy said.

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Thanks to the Association Agreement with the EU, Ukraine has made great strides in the process of European integration. And while membership still requires a lot, spot negotiations on certain pressing issues are just what is worth doing now.

«It is also worth noting that our Association Agreement is so deep, so complete, that it is similar to the agreements that the candidate countries had in the process of their accession. That is, in fact, the integration of our domestic market and services is already taking place. So we should insist on removing additional trade barriers with the European Union. For example, non-tariff barriers to access of our goods to the European market, – continues Natalia Haletska. – Although the road to membership is quite far, we can already act point by point and thus bring Ukraine closer to it, such as simplifying the certification of Ukrainian goods in the European Union. Customs restrictions and duty-free quotas have already been removed, but this is temporary – only for a year. Therefore, the agreement on what will happen next, on the future – is also one of the points of negotiations.»

How long can it take from candidate status to EU membership?

Candidacy is not yet a membership, it can take many years to move from one to the other. There are countries that have not become part of the EU even 20 years after receiving the candidacy, says the deputy:

«It used to be that the period between granting candidate status and member status was seven to eight years. Some candidate countries have never joined the EU, such as Turkey, which has been a candidate since 1999. As for membership, there are a number of criteria that must be met, which are clearly spelled out in the EU’s founding documents: the rule of law, a free market economy and so on.»

To get a candidacy, you need to vote for all EU members. And gaining EU membership is a long way, Dmytro Sherenhovskyi explains:

«It’s a consensus decision. We need a «yes» vote for each country. After that, there will be absolute consensus decision, we will be able to obtain candidate status and begin the path to membership. Based on this, we will see what we still need to pull up, what other challenges there are, to develop a specific plan on how to overcome those challenges so that we can meet the conditions of membership and get it. We need to understand that candidacy is not membership, it is certain stages that put certain things on the agenda. And this experience can take more than one year. In a year or two or three, we will definitely not get membership, it is a little longer. I would like to mention the case of the Western Balkans to emphasize the importance of motivating each individual country to join the EU. The application shows that the EU countries are open to its enlargement. This path we are following is not unique. Central and Eastern Europe did the same. For us, this will be a great impetus for change, and we need to work with it.»

Reforms Ukraine should carry out to join the EU

It is difficult to carry out reforms during the war, and Europe understands this, says Natalia Haletska. However, it’s important not only to pass laws, but also to enforce them.

«Everyone in the European Union understands that it is extremely difficult to carry out reforms during martial law. But this does not mean that Ukraine should not demonstrate that it is pursuing these reforms, not for the sake of passing laws, but for the sake of putting them into practice. That is, it is said that we fight corruption, show clarity and transparency in public procurement, and if there are any abuses, we stop them; that we can not forge documents for travel abroad and so on. It is necessary to shift the emphasis from the adoption of legislation to real implementation at the level of law enforcement agencies,» – she said.

According to Natalia Haletska, all institutions for combating corruption in Ukraine have already been established, they just need to establish their work:

«We have a whole structure of bodies that fight corruption: the Supreme Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine, National Anti-Corruption Bureau, National Agency on Corruption Prevention. Now, we need to pay attention to the quality of work of these bodies so that they really work effectively. Of course, there are reservations about corruption, but again, this will not be an obstacle to Ukraine’s candidacy. It may be an obstacle for Ukraine’s accession to the European Union, but we hope that by that time, we will be able to solve this problem. It should also be understood that in some EU Member States there is also a high level of corruption. If you communicate informally with the people who live there, they talk about it openly.»

Ukraine’s candidacy is also a serious signal to Russia that it has been defeated in both the economic and physical Russian-Ukrainian wars.

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«The European Union has a fairly detailed understanding of Ukrainian realities. This was facilitated by the long Association Agreement. So we have a lot of work to do, but we need to persuade the EU to give us this candidate status, because it is an important political signal for Russia – that the economic war has failed. It was started by Russia long before the physical aggression. Long before 2014, the Russian Federation launched an economic war against Ukraine, blocking the export and transit of our goods through its territory to other countries of the former CIS. Then Ukraine turned its exports to the West,» – adds Natalia Haletska.

How to deal with countries that are against granting Ukraine candidate status

Hungary, Sweden, Denmark and some other countries are skeptical of Ukraine’s EU bid. But the issue, at least in the Scandinavian countries, will be resolved after a positive decision of the European Commission, Dmytro Sherenhovskyi says.

«In fact, there are several countries that are against Ukraine’s membership in the EU. These include, in particular, Hungary. There is information that Sweden and Denmark as well. Representatives of our diplomatic corps went to these countries. In my opinion, the question of the Scandinavian countries is a question of the decision of the European Commission. A positive decision will affect the fact that the scales will lean towards us. There are bigger doubts about the Netherlands: the issue of Ukraine’s candidacy is acute there. In 2014, when the Association Agreement was signed, a popular vote was held there, which gave a negative answer, but the Dutch government still extended this decision. There are some bigger questions to Cyprus, which verbally supports us, but in fact is somewhat skeptical, such as France and Germany, Italy.»

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For some European countries, Ukraine’s candidacy is a psychological issue, Dmytro Sherenhovskyi continues, quoting Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. However, in his opinion, it is necessary to put things in order, because it is rather a procedural decision, where there is no place for psychology:

«Foreign Minister Kuleba said well that for many, it is just a psychological issue. But it is necessary to bring order here as well. If we talk about the procedure, it is very clear. Joining the EU is different from the procedure for joining NATO, because joining NATO is a truly political decision. It can happen very quickly, as we could see in the case of Sweden and Finland. As for the EU, it is a procedural decision: it is necessary to go through a number of procedures and draw up a number of documents, get a number of agreements and work with procedural decisions. If at a certain stage we see that there are inconsistencies, a certain dissatisfaction, then we create a plan and solve this issue. If we start playing «answer / do not answer», without taking into account the procedure and certain decisions, then this is speculation of individual countries. So the most important thing here is to follow the procedure and emphasize that we do not expect membership in two months. We see points that need improvement on our part, and we want to clearly identify them, we want to get an action plan for them.»

Instead, Natalia Haletska believes that granting candidate status to Ukraine is a political decision. To do this, you need to communicate separately with each member country.

«Giving Ukraine candidate status is actually a political step, so I am optimistic that such a decision will be made. We need to talk, talk and talk again, communicate with each EU member state, because in the European Union, decisions are made on the basis of compromise. Hungary, like other member states, gets its share of the European Union’s budget, which is not so smooth. So if we can play on such certain political agreements inside and strengthen our positions, we will be able to convince other countries,» – she concludes.

Roman Tyshchenko-Lamanskyi

Translated by Vitalii Holich

Full or partial publication of the text without the written consent of the editors is prohibited and is considered copyright infringement.

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