July 24th, 2024

Ukraine realizes a dream as it launches EU membership talks, but joining is likely to take years

By Lorne Cook, The Associated Press on June 25, 2024.

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union launched membership talks with Ukraine on Tuesday, a decade after Russian troops seized the Crimean Peninsula to deter the country from moving closer to the West, part of a chain of events that set the two neighbors on the path to war.

Ukraine’s accession negotiations were set in motion at an intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg. Moldova is also due to launch its membership talks later Tuesday. While the events are a major milestone on their European paths, the talks could take years to conclude.

In opening remarks presented via video-link, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal described it as “a historic day” that marks “a new chapter” in his country’s ties with the bloc.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

BRUSSELS (AP) – Ukraine is set to officially launch membership talks with the European Union on Tuesday in what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described as a dream come true for his country’s citizens more than two years into a war with Russia.

Deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Olga Stefanishyna will lead Ukraine’s delegation at an intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg marking the official opening of talks to align the country’s laws and standards with those of the 27-nation bloc.

A few hours later, Moldova, which applied to join the EU after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and was granted candidate status four months later, will take part in a separate intergovernmental conference to officially launch its own accession process.

Ukraine, too, sought candidate status in the days after Russia invaded. By June 2022, EU leaders had quickly made it official. But things have moved more slowly since then and membership, if it comes, might be years away.

Turkey’s accession talks have lasted almost two decades without result.

Still, starting the talks process is sending another strong signal of solidarity with Ukraine beyond the billions in financial support the EU has provided. It’s also a show of support for Moldova, which has faced its own challenges with Russia.

“Generations of our people are realizing their European dream. Ukraine is returning to Europe,” Zelenskyy said in an online post after EU member states agreed on Friday to open the talks.

Tuesday’s intergovernmental conference marks the launch of talks but the negotiations themselves are unlikely to begin for a few months.

Candidate countries must bring their laws and standards into line with those of the EU in 35 policy areas, known as chapters, ranging from the free movement of goods through fisheries, taxation, energy and the environment to judicial rights and security.

Unanimous agreement must be given by all 27 member countries to open or close chapters, providing ample opportunity for EU nations to demand more work or to delay proceedings.

Hungary, which takes over the EU’s rotating presidency from Belgium in July, has routinely put the brakes on EU and NATO support for Ukraine.

“We are still at the beginning of the screening process. It’s very difficult to say at what stage Ukraine is in. From what I see here, as we speak, they are very far from meeting the accession criteria,” Hungarian Minister for European Affairs Janos Boka said as he arrived at the venue.

Bordering EU members Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, Ukraine would overtake France to become the largest member of the bloc if it joined, shifting its center of gravity further eastward. As a top grain producer its entry would have a huge impact on EU agriculture policy.

Together with Moldova, Ukraine stands in a long line of EU hopefuls – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey – with yearslong membership aspirations and which have felt left behind by Kyiv’s rapid progress.

Spanish State Secretary for European Affairs Fernando Sampedro Marcos praised both countries for their preparatory work, saying they have made “a tremendous effort in very difficult circumstances in the last months.”

“Of course, this requires reforms and it’s a merit-based process,” he noted, and paid tribute to the countries of the Western Balkans which also want to join. “We will not leave them behind.”

Ukraine wants to join by 2030, but it must carry out dozens of institutional and legal reforms first. That daunting list is led by steps to combat corruption and includes broad reforms to public administration and judiciary.

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