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Top EU leaders are visiting Ukraine this week, but they won’t bring promises that the war-torn country can join the bloc anytime soon.
Brussels is expected to pour cold water on Ukraine’s hopes of an early EU rejoin at a two-day summit in Kyiv, according to a draft statement expected to be released at the event and seen by POLITICO .
The statement makes no specific mention of the ambitious timetable Ukraine has set for itself, with the country’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal even telling POLITICO this week that he hopes to join within two years. Instead, the document offers only vague assurances of how the process will move forward once all EU-mandated milestones have been reached.
“The EU will decide on the next steps once all the conditions specified in the Commission’s opinion are fully met,” the draft says. “Ukraine underlined its determination to fulfill the necessary conditions to start accession negotiations as soon as possible.”
According to several EU diplomats and officials, the wording follows significant backlash from some EU countries about Ukraine overpromising on its EU membership prospects, a topic which Kyiv has asked to be addressed at the summit. Although EU national leaders will not be present at Friday’s summit, officials from the European Council – which includes all 27 EU leaders – liaised with EU countries on the final communiqué. .
Last June, EU leaders granted Ukraine official candidate status in record time, but the decision was much easier than swiftly navigating Ukraine through the grueling negotiations needed to align a candidate country on Byzantine EU systems, rules and regulations. This process usually takes years and years and often stalls for long periods of time.
Yet EU countries are divided on how quickly the bloc should try to move Ukraine forward in this membership process.
“There were obvious tensions between Poland and the Baltic states on the one hand and other EU countries over the language of EU membership,” an EU official said.
The official added that tensions between European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also played into the debate.
“They are in a race to outbid the Ukrainians,” the official said.
Yet, while no breakthrough is expected in EU accession talks, there is a strong will in Brussels to show solidarity with Ukraine on other issues.
“The mere fact that we are holding a summit in a country at war” is in itself significant, a senior EU official said ahead of the meeting.
Indeed, a large gathering of senior EU leaders and commissioners are expected to travel to Kyiv this week for meetings with EU officials.
Progress is expected in some areas — for example, an agreement on a visa-free regime for industrial goods; the suspension of customs duties on Ukrainian exports for another year; movement on Ukraine’s accession to an EU payment system facilitating bank transfers in euros; and Ukraine’s integration into the EU’s free mobile roaming zone.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan, the reconstruction challenge facing Ukraine and food security issues will also be on the summit’s agenda. The EU is set to announce a new €25 million humanitarian aid program to tackle Russian mining in the country.
Another EU official said the summit sends “a strong signal that we support a country that has been victim of aggression and we underline Ukraine’s right to have a just peace at the end of this war. Ukraine has been attacked, Ukraine has a right to self-defense that it exercises… and that alone can be the basis for a just peace.
Path of reform
The document also stresses the need for a “comprehensive and coherent implementation of judicial reforms” in accordance with the advice of the Venice Commission, citing in particular the need to reform the Ukrainian Constitutional Court.
Although Ukraine recently announced changes to the court, particularly to how judges are appointed, the Venice Commission – a top advisory body of constitutional law scholars – still has concerns about the powers and the composition of the body that selects candidates for the court.
Shmyhal told POLITICO this week that Ukraine will answer those questions. Kyiv was keen to signal that it was cracking down on corruption amid concerns in Washington and Brussels.
“We are carrying out consultations with the European Commission to see if all the conclusions issued can be incorporated into the text,” he said.