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Expert: by applying in 2020, Ukraine will become an EU member before 2035

Expert: by applying in 2020, Ukraine will become an EU member before 2035
Article by: Rostyslav Khotyn
Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
When presenting the Reform Strategy las week, President Petro Poroshenko stated that Ukraine was going to apply for EU membership in 2020. Radio Liberty spoke with the leading expert from the Center for European Policies in Brussels Amanda Paul regarding this date and the issue of giving a European future to Kyiv. 

The fact that President Petro Poroshenko, when speaking about 2020 as the year Ukraine would apply for EU membership, gives the EU six years to think and prepare, and six years for reform to Ukraine, – is it a logical step or not? Not to catch the EU unawares? 

In think that it would not have been a good idea, possibly, to try and apply today. As the EU has told Ukraine many times that first it has to do its homework, and that it should have the political will to carry out domestic reforms. And that Ukraine should prove the serious of its intentions towards change. Therefore, I think President Poroshenko’s strategy is the best. However there is also a big question mark here: will reforms take place in practice without giving Kyiv a clear European perspective? So, will there be real reforms without bait?

Is the intention to apply for EU membership in 2020 a sort of admission that Ukraine is currently unprepared for a formal application? 

Yes, the statement emphasizes the fact that Ukraine is not ready yet. However, this also emphasizes that Ukraine is dedicated to the policies aimed towards EU membership. This also sends a powerful message to Russia, that despite its invasion to Ukraine, despite Russian aggression against Ukraine, Russia was unable to change Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities, the main one being orientation towards EU membership.

Are six years before applying for EU membership enough?

We have to be realistic about the fact that nobody expects Ukraine to turn into a perfect country before it applies for EU membership. Look at those who have already become EU members: they were not perfect either when they applied. Another thing is important: Ukraine will have the opportunity to show its insistence on reform, to move in the right direction. Obviously, not all the reforms will be carried out, as in order to completely reform itself, Ukraine should at least have European perspectives. Ukraine should also accord with the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership. Nobody expect Ukraine to execute these criteria before it applies.

Recently in its resolution, the EU Parliament once more called to give Ukraine prospective membership. Why is this European perspective so important? 

The importance of the European perspective is that it is the light at the end of the tunnel for the countries who want to bid farewell to their very difficult past and head towards a better future. The European perspective means that the EU views these countries as potential future members. Then these countries that receive prospective membership find it easier to carry out very complex political and economic reforms, which necessitate courage. However, if the government can tell the people: ‘Look, we have European perspectives, the EU is ready to open their doors to us,’ it is ready to make reforms popular. However, for the EU to provide prospective membership, it should have a positive attitude towards the idea of application by this country or other.

Why are the EU Commission and key EU members still not ready to give venerated prospective membership to Ukraine? 

I don’t think there will be a time when they can say: oh, yes, now we’re ready… Moldova also examines the possibility of applying to the EU next year. As a rule, EU member countries don’t tell the rest: yes, yet, apply… The EU is still tired of expansion. And this will last for some time. The country in question has to take the initiative, carry out reforms, apply… The EU itself won’t come and say: apply!

As to the application geography: first all the Balkans, then Moldova, and then Ukraine? Or what does it look like? 

We have already heard from Mr. Junker that there would be no EU expansion within the next five years. After this, sooner or later, all Western Balkan countries will join the EU. Though there are many of them who are falling behind: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo. It is unclear whether Moldova’s application next year will be accepted by the EU. Thought there is no doubt that Moldova is a European country, therefore no issues should arise here. Ukraine will also apply, Georgia too. Let us not forget about Türkiye, which is a candidate. So the next 20 years will be a long and hard way for the EU.

If everything goes according to plan, and Ukraine, having carried out reforms, applies for EU membership in 2020. When can we count on membership itself? 

If Ukraine applies and is accepted, then – and I emphasize this again! – every European country has the right to apply for EU membership – a lot will depend on the mood within the country. Whether the people will support the reforms that make the application easier. It is not an easy feat. However, I think that by applying, Ukraine would be able to become an EU member with 15 years… If everything goes according to plan, but surprises to happen with Ukraine. In the worst case, it may last longer. It is important for Ukraine to get prospective membership and the promise that one day it would definitely be part of the EU. Without this I am doubtful that Ukraine will be able to fully reform itself.

Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
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