Zhovkva: We don’t deserve a ‘Bosnia scenario’ on EU candidate status

In recent weeks, high-ranking Ukrainian officials have been touring Europe’s capitals in recent weeks in a concerted diplomatic push ahead of the meeting. [Ukraine Presidential Office]

Failure to grant Ukraine EU candidate status later this month would signal to Russia Europe’s weakness and could plunge the country into the perpetual enlargement waiting room, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s foreign policy adviser, Ihor Zhovkva, told EURACTIV.

“We’re not asking for membership, we’re asking for the first step,” Zhovkva said, speaking to EURACTIV shortly after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s second surprise visit to Kyiv on Saturday (11 June).

Zhovkva said the EU side had not requested any additional information from the Ukrainian government, and he hoped this was a sign the executive would be “satisfied with the amount of work done and level of information provided”.

“We have optimism regarding the decision of the European Commission, but we do understand that the debate during the European Council will be significant,” Zhovkva said.

The EU’s executive is expected to present its opinion on Ukraine’s candidate status next Friday (17 June), which leaves EU leaders roughly a week to study the document before deciding on the matter at a crucial EU summit on 23-24 June.

The document would come with conditions linked to the rule of law and anti-corruption legislation, EURACTIV understands.

“We’re not saying that 100% has been achieved in the rule of law or some other topics, and we are ready to work on it,” Zhovkva said, adding that a significant amount of work has been done by drafting and fulfilling the Association Agreement.

“Yes, work needs to be done, but this is difficult to be done in times of war,” the Ukrainian official said, adding he hopes both EU institutions and member states would acknowledge this.

“But if we are talking about EU candidate status, should it be 100% achievements? Definitely not. No single country before being granted candidate status had it 100%,” he said.

Von der Leyen makes surprise visit to Kyiv to discuss Ukraine’s EU bid

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made a surprise visit to Kyiv, the second trip to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion, to discuss Ukraine’s bid to join the EU with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“The discussions today will enable …

Zhovkva also rejected any alternative models to the EU enlargement process, including the rather vague proposal made by French President Emmanuel Macron, which would see Ukraine and others enter into a broader second-tier framework without granting full membership.

“No ‘potential’ candidate status – we don’t deserve a Bosnia-scenario,” Zhovkva said.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a potential candidate for EU membership since 2003. Still, since then, very little progress has been made, and the lack of certainty has been held partially responsible for the increasing fragmentation between the country’s three political factions.

“No potential candidate, no candidate for a candidate, no semi-candidate, just a candidate,” he emphasised.

In recent weeks, high-ranking Ukrainian officials have been touring Europe’s capitals in recent weeks in a concerted diplomatic push ahead of the meeting.

Some member states, including Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Portugal, remain sceptical of Kyiv’s bid, while a majority, including many Eastern Europeans and Italy, favour it.

Asked about whether he sees the tide turning in those hesitant countries, Zhovkva said many who have voiced reservations in bilateral meetings would be awaiting the Commission’s opinion.

Asked whether Ukraine expects that, in the case of a positive decision, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin might make a bolder military move, Zhovkva said, “we don’t have to be afraid of what Russia will or will not do before or after this decision”.

EU member states should not be afraid of this “because all of Europe is his target,” he said.

“We should not think what the reaction of Russia will be. We should think about the reaction of Ukrainians which is more important. What will be the reaction of Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the trenches, of citizens?” he added.

“Failure to give a positive answer for your Ukraine in June will be also a failure for the whole EU because it will show you are not ready for decisive decisions, too weak – and this will be a signal for Russia,” Zhovkva said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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