While EU leaders regularly make statements to the effect that ‘Ukraine belongs to our European family’, Brussels does not seem to be so eager to actually grant Ukraine membership without Kyiv meeting all accession criteria first. Some prominent EU leaders also voiced their opposition to accepting Ukraine into the block. French President Macron, for instance, said that it is not possible to start the accession process in the case of a country at war. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte argued that there is no such thing as a ‘fast track procedure’ to get into the EU, therefore Ukraine must fulfil all membership criteria. The process in fact took more than a decade for countries like Croatia and Bulgaria.
While it is highly unlikely that Ukraine will join the EU anytime soon, should Kyiv become a member state, it will be one of the poorest, with only one-ninth of the EU’ average GDP per capita. To compare: Ukraine’s GDP per capita is $3,724 while Germany’s is $50,801, Luxemburg’s is $135,682, and Romania’s is $14 861.
Given its size, however, as a Member State Ukraine would be one of the largest countries in the EU,
with considerable political influence given the weighted voting system of the Union. Ukraine possesses the largest land mass of any country in the EU and if it joins, it will have the fifth-largest population in the block.
Accession criteria can be grouped into three main categories—political criteria, economic criteria, and the capacity to fulfil the obligations of membership. In terms of the political criteria, including such requirements as the presence of institutions guaranteeing democracy and the rule of law, Ukraine has been primarily criticised for its weak court system. While the country has made considerable improvements with regard to appointing judges in a transparent way, the integrity of some of the judges is still questionable. The courts are one of the least trusted institutions in Ukraine currently, which undermines the rule of law and the country’s democratic progress. Another front where Ukraine is performing weakly is its weak civil society. The country has therefore been urged to take steps to simplify the rules and taxation for non-governmental organisations to facilitate the emergence of a vibrant civil society.
As far as economic criteria are concerned, such as resilience to crisis, economic growth, and financial stability, it is mostly pervasive corruption in the country is pointed out.
While Ukraine has significantly reduced corruption over the last couple of years, it is still a problem,
with oligarchs continuing to have a large impact on political decisions, which hinders both the rule of law and effective economic policy making. Else then these points, Ukraine is also criticised for its minority policies as well, which restrict, for instance, the Ukrainian Hungarian minority’s right to use its mother tongue. To become an EU member state, Kyiv should improve on all of these fronts, consolidating its democracy, strengthening its economy and respecting minority rights.
While the document assessing Ukraine’s prospects for joining the EU and granting its candidate status issued by the European Commission in June 2022 highlighted that Ukraine had made progress in terms of all accession criteria, it has not fulfilled them just yet. The document also required Ukraine to take immediate action on a series of issues ranging from reducing corruption and money laundering to limiting the power and political influence of oligarchs. The document noted that the Commission will continue to monitor Ukraine’ progress on these issues and will publish a more detailed assessment of the country by the end of 2022. The final sentence of the document stressed that Ukraine’ accession will be based on the established criteria and conditions, and should Kyiv fail to meet them, it will not be granted membership.