EU closes ranks on Ukraine, Moldova candidate status as decision looms

EU leaders will decide on further steps once all the conditions spelt out by the European Commission are fully met, the draft communiqué adds. [European Council]

EU leaders in Brussels are expected to sign off on last week’s recommendation by the European Commission to grant Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status, according to the latest EU summit draft conclusions, dated 21 June and seen by EURACTIV.

“The European Council has decided to grant the status of candidate country to Ukraine and to the Republic of Moldova,” EU leaders are expected to state when they meet for their EU summit on Thursday (23 June).

EU leaders will decide on further steps once all the conditions spelt out by the European Commission are fully met, the draft communiqué adds.

A first progress assessment report on the fulfilment of the conditions is expected as part of the Commission’s regular enlargement package by the end of this year.

The EU’s executive recommended granting Ukraine and Moldova candidate status last week, which left EU leaders roughly a week to study the document before deciding on the matter.

The European Commission also recommended Moldova receive candidate status, but fell short of granting the same outlook to Georgian until it fulfils conditions spelt out that lead to EU candidate status.

Tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets Monday (20 June) to demonstrate their wrath against the government and the ruling party Georgian Dream,  days after the EU’s executive recommended deferring Tbilisi’s candidacy.

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At least 120,000 Georgians took to the streets Monday (20 June) in support of the country’s EU membership bid, after the European Commission recommended deferring Tbilisi’s candidacy.

The Georgian Dream government has faced mounting international criticism over perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi’s relations with Brussels.

EU leaders are expected to reaffirm the position, saying they are “ready to grant the status of candidate country to Georgia once the priorities specified in the Commission’s opinion on Georgia’s membership application have been addressed.”

However, some EU member states have been stressing the point about conditions being met for the three aspirant countries adhering to the standard enlargement procedures of the bloc.

“The progress of each country towards the European Union will depend on its own merit in meeting the Copenhagen criteria, including the EU’s capacity to absorb new members,” the draft conclusions read.

The wording suggests that there is no intention of tying Ukraine and Moldova together as a ‘package deal’, as has been done with North Macedonia and Albania, where one cannot move on with the process without the other.

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The EU should grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, bringing them a step closer to bloc membership, while Georgia still has some homework to do, the European Commission said on Friday (17 June) in a highly-anticipated opinion on the bloc’s future enlargement.

Closing ranks 

After several days of internal EU discussions, no opposition among the 27 member states has surfaced, several EU diplomats told EURACTIV, saying they largely believe the Commission’s opinion will be reflected in the EU leader’s decision later this week.

A day earlier, European Council President Charles Michel said on Monday (20 June) he would invite EU leaders to approve Ukraine and Moldova candidate status to join the bloc at the summit.

“Now is the time to acknowledge that the future of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia lies within the EU. I will invite you to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova,” Michel wrote in the invitation letter to EU leaders.

“We will continue to provide Ukraine with strong humanitarian, military, economic and financial support,” he added.

The EU’s 27 member states must agree unanimously to grant candidate status.

Consensus in favour of granting Ukraine EU candidate status has also gained momentum after a joint visit to Kyiv by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The three leaders, speaking on behalf of the EU’s three largest economies, came out in favour of Ukraine receiving “immediate” official status of an EU candidate.

France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, said on Tuesday (21 June) that there was “a total consensus on moving these issues forward, and in particular for Ukraine the possibility of confirming candidate status as soon as possible”.

The Netherlands, one of the more hesitant countries and back in 2019 tandem partner for France to brake on enlargement, last week announced it would back Ukraine’s EU candidate status, calling the European Commission’s advice “a smart compromise”.

Despite some misgivings among northern EU member states, Denmark’s foreign minister told EURACTIV he welcomed giving it candidacy status, but admitted that there is no illusion and “it’s clear that the work to do the reforms, and in parallel, rebuilding Ukraine will be a tremendous effort”.

While the candidacy will mark a strategic eastward shift by the EU in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine, most inside the bloc believe Kyiv would likely take years to become a member of the bloc, if at all.

Western Balkans to miss out

EU leaders are also likely to express the bloc’s “full and unequivocal commitment to the EU membership perspective of the Western Balkans” and “call for the acceleration of the accession process”, after a scheduled meeting between EU leaders and their six counterparts from the region.

Out of the six hopefuls, only Montenegro and Serbia have formally opened accession negotiations, while Albania and North Macedonia have been in the waiting room for several years.

Serbia, together with Albania and North Macedonia, which are part of the Open Balkan Initiative, have threatened with a no-show at the summit and said they will announce on Wednesday (22 June) at noon whether they will take part in the upcoming meeting, scheduled for Thursday morning.

Serbian President Vučić is under growing EU pressure to align with EU sanctions on Russia, something he has refused to do, invoking the traditional friendship between Belgrade and Moscow.

“The European Council calls on all countries to align with EU sanctions, in particular candidate countries”, the Council Conclusions read.

Despite some EU member states, including Slovenia and Austria, pushing for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to also receive EU candidate status, according to EU diplomats it is ‘highly unlikely’ to happen.

Instead, EU leaders are expected to welcome the recent political agreement, but stress Bosnia’s leaders will have to implement its commitments first, “which will allow the country to advance decisively on its European path, in line with the priorities set out in the Commission opinion, to obtain EU candidate status”.

According to the draft summit conclusions, it is expected that they will comment on the bilateral dispute between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, which has been holding up the country’s progress in the enlargement process over what Sofia sees as anti-Bulgarian policy in the neighbouring country, as well as identity issues.

The only text from the draft conclusions which is not yet agreed is on the “negotiations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia”.

Despite some progress and a French proposal for a timeline to solve the issues, the Bulgarian parliament remains opposed to Skopje opening accession talks before tangible progress is made.

MPs in Sofia will vote on a no-confidence motion on the government of Kiril Petkov in the evening on Wednesday. Petkov has lost the majority after the party “There is such a people” left the 4-way coalition, accusing the Prime Minister of seeking to lift the veto behind the back of MPs.

Petkov bites the bullet as North Macedonia veto rattles Bulgaria

The Bulgarian parliament will make today an attempt to make progress in efforts to lift the country’s veto on North Macedonia starting accession talks. But MPs are also likely to pass a no-confidence vote against the government of Kiril Petkov.

According to political commentators in Sofia, Petkov is set to lose the motion.

“Building on the revised methodology, the European Council invites the Commission, the High Representative and the Council to further advance the gradual integration between the European Union and the region already during the enlargement process itself in a reversible and merit-based manner,” the draft Council Conclusions read.

However, they will fall short of any stronger commitments as to potential timeline for the Western Balkans’ countries accession to the bloc.

Slovenia wants 'magic formula' on Western Balkans as EU leaders likely to fall short of solution

Slovenia has urged member states to send a strong political signal to the Western Balkans, while EU leaders are likely to fall short of firm commitments.

EU leaders are set to meet for a summit between 23 and 24 June where …

Macron’s proposal

EU leaders will also discuss the French proposal for establishing a “European Political Community”.

According to the draft conclusions, the aim is to offer a platform for political coordination for European countries across the continent. The initiative could concern the Western Balkans, the associated countries of our Eastern Partnership, EFTA countries and all other European countries with whom the Union has close relations.

“Such a framework will not replace existing EU policies and instruments, notably enlargement, and will fully respect the European Union’s decision-making autonomy”, leaders will say, in an effort to dismiss sentiments that the initiative is another fudge to delay EU accession for candidate countries.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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