Written by Preeksha Malhotra and Arjun Deodia
“Prove that you are with us and will not let us go”, were the words of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during an emotional video addressing the emergency session called by the European Parliament on March 1, 2022, which saw diplomats walking out on Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and culminated in a standing ovation for Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky.
The emergency session that took place in Belgium’s capital Brussels, was called a day after Zelensky signed an official request seeking ‘immediate’ membership for Ukraine in the European Union (EU).
Soon after, Ukrainian media house Kyiv Post tweeted that the European Parliament has ‘approved’ Ukraine’s application to join the EU and a special admission procedure has been launched.
Few others, like Fox News and Eastern European news outlet NEXTA, wrote that the European Parliament had “accepted” Ukraine’s application to join the EU and that ‘A special admission procedure has begun’.
However, social media users interpreted this to mean that Ukraine had become a member of the EU and started congratulating Ukraine for becoming a member of the European Union. This led to confusion on social media about the status of Ukraine’s application to join the EU.
So Is Ukraine now a member state of the European Union?
The answer is NO. Ukraine has not become a member of the EU yet and it will take time for the country to officially enter the 27 nation bloc.
Here are all the details you need to know about the European Union, why Ukraine wants to become a member and the status of its application.
European Union: Origins
Founded in November 1992, the European Union is an economic and political bloc of 27 countries that are located primarily in the European continent.
The EU Info Centre states that “The EU was originally created with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighbours, which culminated in the Second World War.”
The European Union aims to “promote peace, freedom, justice, business opportunities without internal borders”. It provides an internal market for member states to facilitate trade and movement of goods, services and citizens across member countries, without border restrictions.
Who can become a member?
The EU states that any applicant country “must meet the conditions for membership and has to implement EU rules and regulations in all areas”.
The conditions mentioned on their website are known as Copenhagen Criteria. These were discussed in 1993 at a European Council meeting in Copenhagen, lending it its name.
As per the point 7 sub-point (iii) of the document (page 13) on conclusions of the Presidency for the European Council in Copenhagen, 1993 “The European Council today agreed that the associated countries in Central and Eastern Europe that so desire shall become members of the European Union. Accession will take place as soon as an associated country can assume the obligations of membership by satisfying the economic and political conditions required.”
The applicant country must also have the ability to accept all of European Union Legislation including adopting the Euro as currency.
The Euro is the official currency of 19 EU countries, which is known as the Eurozone. Denmark is the only country to have opted out from the single currency policy and to retain its former currency as an EU member.
Apart from these factors, the EU must also be able to accommodate new members at the time of a country’s application for membership.
In 2013, Croatia became the latest country to get the status of an EU member state, after rigorous negotiations that lasted 10 years. Croatia applied for membership in 2003 and negotiations were conducted from 2005 to 2011.
However, the EU supports countries that are slated to become a part of the bloc financially, administratively and technically during this pre-accession period of joining the European Union as well.
Why is Ukraine in a hurry to join the EU?
Currently under attack from its neighbour Russia, Ukraine would benefit from the EU membership as it would provide them access to immediate military assistance.
The mutual defence clause of the EU states that if a member is the “victim of armed aggression on its territory” then the other member states must provide aid and assistance “by all the means in their power.” Ukraine will also benefit economically if it enters the bloc.
Since 2007, the country has been in negotiations with the EU to bring the two entities closer together through the tool of an Associated Agreement (AA). The negotiations for the AA started in 2007 and the first chapters were signed in 2014 followed by full ratification of the process in 2017.
AA is aimed at fostering deeper political, economic ties and deeper common values between Ukraine and the EU. This is however different from being a member of the bloc.
Reuters reported that Presidents of eight central and eastern European nations have urged European Union member states to grant candidate status to Ukraine “immediately”.
Who else wants to join the European Union?
Currently, there are five candidate countries (Albania, North Macedonia
Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey) in the process of integrating EU legislation into national law.
According to the EU website, “The candidates are supported financially, administratively and technically during this pre-accession period”.
What are EU officials saying?
“Becoming a member of the EU is a complex procedure which does not happen overnight”, read the opening lines of the ‘joining the EU’ section on the website of the European Union.
This indicates that Ukraine has a long way to go unless the EU parliament introduces a new amendment to the process.
Ukraine applied for EU membership just three days ago on March 1, 2022. After this, the parliament called for “EU institutions to work towards granting EU candidate status to Ukraine” as per the rules, “and, in the meantime, to continue to work towards its integration into the EU single market.”
European Council president Charles Micheal reportedly said that “there are different opinions and sensitivities within the EU on the enlargement of the bloc”.
While Chief of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen’s statement made headlines on Sunday when she said that “they (Ukraine) are one of us and we want them in,”
Officials at the European Union privy to the matter have added that the process is a long one and could probably take years for Ukraine to be integrated into the Union.
Furthermore, AFP also reported that Von der Leyen’s spokesman, Eric Mamer, walked back her comments, explaining that the EU chief meant that Ukraine “is a European country and we want them in, meaning Europe in general”.
Expert Views on Ukraine’s membership
To understand the context of why this process takes so long and what it entails, Newschecker spoke to experts on the matter.
“Joining the EU is a tedious process and it applies to any European country. Applying for membership doesn’t mean that a country gets it,” said Prof. Ummu Salma Bava, professor at the Centre for European Studies and School of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.
The European Union is a bloc that wishes to offer freedom, security and justice without internal borders. This implies that the EU has certain standards that are to be met by all member countries. When a country applies to become a member of the EU, they are also expected to adhere to these standards in various areas like transport, energy, environment etcetera.
“Customs regulations, controls on borders after all the European Union is a common market so the same kind of customs controls that exist on the border of France or on the border of Italy will also have to exist say Ukraine if Ukraine is to become a member.”said Mr. Rakesh Sood, Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and Former Ambassador.
He further explained that Ukraine will have to bring their domestic laws regarding imports and exports and standardisation into harmony with the European standards. And all this is a time-consuming process.
Further, Prof. Bava echoed that the process of entering the union is indeed long, adding that “at this stage, the big question is if the EU doesn’t want the conflict to enter its boundaries, as the union would be bound to help Ukraine once it became a member. The EU parliament could think about giving candidate country status to Ukraine
For Ukraine to formally accede to the European Union, the country would have to prove its compliance with the numerous policies and legislations of the EU.
Post these compliances are met, the country’s accedence has to be ratified through an accession treaty formed by Ukraine and the European Union. This process is also to receive the consent of the European Parliament.
The EU needs to ensure that a new member can demonstrate their ability to fully play their part as a member of the Union by namely demonstrating the following:
- Complying with EU standards and Rules
- Consent of EU institutions and member states
- Consent of their citizens through an approval of their national parliament or by referendum
While there is no clarity yet on what would be the further course of action, it has been reported that Georgia and Moldova have also signed formal applications to join the European Union.
Both these countries are former parts of the Soviet Union and have previously expressed fear that the aggression from Russia could reach their countries too in the near future looking at the ensuing situation in Ukraine.