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Ukraine ‘optimistic’ on opening EU accession talks

8 months ago 31

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday (2 November) that Kyiv was confident about its quest to open EU membership talks this year, touting reforms it made even in the face of the Russian invasion.

Speaking ahead of a conference on Europe in Berlin, Kuleba told reporters Ukraine was on track to fulfil its obligations to open negotiations on accession.

“We are optimistic. We did a lot of reforms and we passed legislation necessary to meet, to implement the recommendations,” he said.

“So we are looking forward to the presentation of this report and I have reasons to believe that it will pave the way to the decision of the European Council on opening accession talks with Ukraine.”

Ukraine applied for EU membership just days after Russia’s invasion on 24 February 2022 and received candidacy status several months later in a strong signal of support from Brussels.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged in September that Kyiv had made “great strides” in its bid for EU membership.

Enlargement will be at the core of the EU summit on 14 and 15 December in Brussels, by which time the European Commission will have submitted reports on bids by Ukraine and also Moldova.

Kuleba warned against letting the EU’s own ongoing reform process slow down accession of new members.

“EU reform should not take enlargement process as a hostage and we have to find the right balance between the process of reforming the European Union and continuing with enlargement,” he said.

The 27-member bloc is in the throes of a broad renewal process, and there is an ongoing tussle on whether to complete its own reforms before letting in more members or whether to expand first and work on the change together.

A recent Franco-German paper makes it clear that a future EU enlargement requires treaty change, including painful decisions for the current member states.

Hosting the Berlin conference, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that big countries like hers must be ready to make sacrifices in the course of the reforms.

“That can mean for a country like mine, Germany, that we say we are prepared to do without having a commissioner for a time,” she said.

“And we know that this notion is particularly for smaller states more difficult, that is why we want to ensure that they would not sacrifice their rights to have a say in the commission.”

Ukraine would become the EU’s fifth most populous member state, as well as its poorest, meaning that – under current rules – it would absorb much of the bloc’s generous agriculture and development aid at the expense of current members.

Baerbock said a step-by-step enlargement must run in parallel with reforms to prevent the further growth of central EU institutions and reduce the use of national vetos.

The European Commission will issue a report on 8 November assessing progress towards EU membership by Ukraine and other hopefuls including Moldova, Georgia and Western Balkan states.

For Ukraine, the report is expected to back launching membership negotiations with additional conditions related to fighting corruption and safeguarding minority rights.

Baerbock said Russia must not be allowed “to plough an imperial trench… which will isolate not only Ukraine but also Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkans” from us.

Expanding the bloc must not come at the expense of democratic standards, she added, something the EU has struggled to ensure with some current members including Poland and Hungary. She proposed allowing candidates to sit as observers on some internal EU deliberations before full membership.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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