Responding to Putin’s war by granting candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The flags of the Associated Trio. [Georgi Gotev]

The requests from Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia for acceding to the EU were presented as matters of extreme urgency. Although the EU’s normal accession process is long, an immediate and strategic response is needed, an international group of analysts write.

On 24 February, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. On 28 February, President Zelenskyy submitted a formal request to accede to the EU under a fast-track procedure. On the same day, President von der Leyen declared, “They (the people of Ukraine) are one of us, and we want them in”. Also, on the same day, the leaders of Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, later joined by Croatia, Hungary and Romania, published a declaration favouring for Ukraine an immediate accession perspective.

On 3 March, Georgia and Moldova both submitted formal requests to accede to the EU.

This is now a totally new situation. The requests from all three states are presented as matters of extreme urgency. The EU’s normal accession process is a long and arduous course. But this is not a normal situation and calls for an immediate and strategic response beyond the sanctioning of Russia.

We salute President von der Leyen’s short but clear and categorical statement about welcoming Ukraine into the EU. We note the Resolution of the European Parliament of 1 March, including calling “for the EU to work towards granting EU Candidate status to Ukraine …”, but consider that to be an unduly weak formulation, which lacks a sense of urgency.

Due to the big investments made since 2014 by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in implementing the three Association Agreements including DCFTAs, whose chapters are the same as for the existing enlargement process, all three states are potentially qualified for ‘Candidate’ status, as has been justified by objective facts.

Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia states should thus be fully integrated into the existing enlargement procedures. However, these procedures and methodology are themselves in need of thorough revision and upgrading, for which a seriously worked out proposal has been published, advocating a process of ‘Staged Accession to the EU’. This proposal now deserves consideration by the EU institutions and member states in the interests of both the Western Balkan and Eastern European states.

We address specific recommendations to how EU policy towards each of the three states should be adapted.

To Ukraine. While Ukraine is in a war of survival and is partly occupied by Russian forces, the normal enlargement procedures cannot be activated. Yet, granting Candidate status now is of paramount importance to signal the EU’s fundamental support and give hope for the better future that can lie ahead.

Current operational priorities are to help Ukraine fight and survive and to support the huge and growing number of refugee women and children arriving in EU member states. For the post-war situation, a massive reconstruction and development programme should be prepared.

To Moldova. Since the presidential elections of 2020 and the parliamentary elections of 2021, Moldova’s new government has established an excellent political basis for progress along with the enlargement procedures. The country is nonetheless facing several enormous challenges simultaneously and needs mounting support from the EU, conditional on decisive reform measures. For this purpose, Moldova should be invited by the EU to set out a comprehensive reform strategy in the context of its new five-year Association Agenda to be the basis for ‘more for more’ support.

To Georgia. Georgia has advanced well on many commitments under the DCFTA part of its Association Agreement but has disappointed over failure to fully implement the conditions set out in the political agreement mediated by President Michel in April 2021. Its support for Ukraine at war has been tepid. Normal enlargement procedures should be strictly conditioned on Georgia taking credible steps to improve its democracy and rule of law and moving more broadly into line with the EU’s foreign and security policy objectives.

The signatories are:

Michael Emerson, Steven Blockmans, Daniel Gros, Karel Lannoo, Tinatin Akhvlediani, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels

Veronika Movchan, Artem Remizov, Institute for Economic Research, Kyiv

Denis Cenusa, Expert-Grup, Chisinau

Iulian Groza, Institute for European Policies and Reforms, Chisinau

Kornely Kakachia, Georgian Institute of Politics, Tbilisi

Ghia Nodia, Ilia State University, Tbilisi

Benyamin Poghosyan, Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Yerevan

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