The EU made Ukraine a “candidate”, and then? ?

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Source: official account: Xiake island wechat id:xiake_ island

The Russian Ukrainian conflict also saw a “chain reaction”: on June 23 local time, the European Council decided to grant Ukraine the status of EU candidate member state, and said that once all the specified conditions were “fully met”, the council would “take the next step”.

After the open election of sides and the implementation of indiscriminate sanctions against Russia, why has the EU played a “comfort card”?

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On June 23, the EU summit was held. Source: foreign media

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The “two-way approach” between the EU and Ukraine has lasted for several years: in 2014, the EU and Ukraine signed an associated country agreement; In 2016, the two sides signed an in-depth and comprehensive free trade agreement; Ukraine is the priority partner of the EU’s eastern partnership and good neighbourliness policy; The intensity of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has escalated, pressing the acceleration button for Ukraine’s accession to the EU.

Why does the EU give Ukraine green eyes? French President macron bluntly said, “the relevant political stance of the EU is a ‘strong signal’ to Russia.”. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not only a military conflict between the two countries, but also a mixed struggle between the United States, the West and Russia in politics, economy, ideology and the concept of international order.

For the EU, stabilizing Ukraine through political and economic ties is an affirmation of the country’s Pro western policy on the one hand, and a diplomatic counterattack against Russia on the other; For Ukraine, the biggest motivation for its accession to the EU is not economic considerations, but eager to prove that it has separated from the “Russian world”.

Although the Russian side has made it clear that the EU is not a military bloc and does not oppose Ukraine’s accession to the EU, once the United States further coerces all parties and takes Ukraine’s accession to the EU as a springboard for “accession to the treaty”, European peace and security may be further ruined.

When will Ukraine join the EU? Public opinion generally pointed out that the “road of queuing” on the Ukrainian side is blocked and long.

You should know that “EU candidate member states” and “EU Member States” are two different concepts. Take the five candidate countries ahead of Ukraine (Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Northern Macedonia) as an example. Turkey was listed as a candidate country in 1999, and so far there is no sign of joining the EU; It has been 17 years since northern Macedonia became a candidate and 8 years since Albania became a candidate – the Prime Minister even said that Ukrainians “should not have any illusions” about rapid accession to the EU.

In addition, EU candidate member states’ accession negotiations are usually divided into 35 chapters. Candidate countries need to obtain the consent of Member States and the approval of the European Parliament through long negotiations before they can complete the accession process. Not to mention that Member States have different attitudes towards Ukraine’s accession to the EU. Even if only looking at the pass line, Ukraine still lags far behind the standards set by the EU in terms of judicial reform and dealing with corruption.

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Main links of EU Accession (source: CCTV News)

In other words, the “political posture” made by the EU is likely to stop at “posture”.

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It should be said that Ukraine’s accession to the EU is a critical moment in the process of EU expansion in recent years. Since Croatia joined the EU in 2013, the EU has not substantially expanded in the past 10 years, and even experienced “expansion fatigue”.

Some EU officials regard the admission of Ukraine into the EU as a “moral responsibility”, saying that Ukraine is fighting for “Western values”, and that the future of the EU depends on Ukraine; As for the “emotional politics”, few people care about the long-term impact of Ukraine’s accession to the EU on European Society and geopolitics.

Once Ukraine joins the EU, it will easily lead to the situation of “EU against EU”. On the one hand, Ukraine needs other Member States to provide huge economic subsidies, which will undoubtedly contribute to the “Euro skepticism” of Western European countries and exacerbate the estrangement between member states; At the same time, the accession of more new member states will make the EU decision-making mechanism increasingly cumbersome. As German Chancellor Scholz said, EU expansion will not really work without institutional reform (such as the use of effective majority voting rather than the principle of collective consensus in diplomatic and other fields).

Externally, the “whirlpool” of Ukraine’s accession to the EU will also put the EU in a dilemma or more. If the EU finally shuts Ukraine down, it will frustrate the vision of “Euro Atlantic integration” of EU neighboring countries; However, if the EU quickly allows Ukraine to start negotiations, it will not only bring unrealistic hope to Ukraine, but also fail to explain to the Balkan countries that have been waiting for a long time.

For a long time, the relationship between the EU and its neighbors has been constrained by the dysfunctional process of accession to the EU. How to deal with the status of Ukraine as a candidate member state and how to balance the strategy between the large surrounding region and the Asia Pacific region will involve the recalibration of the future regional concept of the EU.

In the past, European integration was promoted more through market expansion and policy transfer. Ukraine’s accession to the EU candidate status reflects the geopolitical logic based on power and competition. The return of “great power politics” to Europe has brought a sense of directionless and fragility to the EU.

In particular, is the future European vision based on France’s “European political community” or Germany’s “traditional integration model”? Is it based on the geopolitical logic of central and Eastern Europe or the logic of civilization conflict of some Europeans? This is a major issue concerning the future of the EU.

In this regard, the EU may need to ponder and choose carefully – after all, the historical misjudgment of NATO’s eastward expansion is not far from the past.

Wen / he Zhigao

(associate researcher, Institute of European studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

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