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Some EU nations want to postpone membership for Ukraine – reports

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Germany and the Netherlands want investigations before granting Ukraine candidate status, Bloomberg reported

Germany, the Netherlands and other Western European nations want the European Commission to investigate Ukraine’s readiness for EU membership before fast-tracking its application to the bloc, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing unnamed diplomats. Ukraine’s Eastern European neighbors have pushed for a speedy accession.

These countries, of which only Germany and the Netherlands are named, “want to focus on delivering practical support to Ukraine and ending the war rather than embarking on a process that could take at least a decade,” Bloomberg reported.

Ukraine applied for EU membership last week, with President Volodymyr Zelensky asking for “immediate accession via a new special procedure.” His demand was backed up by the leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, who in an open letter asked “the EU institutions to conduct steps to immediately grant Ukraine a EU candidate country status and open the process of negotiations.”

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However, such a “special procedure” does not exist, and even reaching candidate country status usually requires an investigation by the European Commission and the unanimous consent of all 27 EU member states. Once a candidate, membership can take years or even decades to be granted. Turkey, for example, has been a candidate country since 1999.

Despite European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen describing Ukraine as “one of us,” the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday that membership could take “a lot of years.” In assessing a country’s bid for membership, the European Commission evaluates everything from its economic performance to its legal system to environmental regulations and agricultural practices.

The EU also looks unfavorably on countries with a high level of corruption. With Ukraine often regarded as the most corrupt country in Europe and one of the most corrupt in the world, Zelensky’s government would have to implement significant reforms to be considered an EU candidate under normal circumstances.

“Joining the EU is not something that can be done in a few months…it involves an intensive and far-reaching transformation process,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told a press conference in Berlin on Monday.

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Another factor possibly explaining the reluctance of Germany and the Netherlands to fast-track accession is the fact that Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe by multiple metrics. At $3,727 per capita, its GDP is less than half that of the EU’s poorest country, Bulgaria. 

Germany and the Netherlands both contribute more than they receive from the EU, and are the largest and sixth-largest contributors to the bloc’s annual budget. Admitting Ukraine would place more strain on both nations’ economies. 

Moreover, were Ukraine to join while still at war, the EU would become party to the conflict with Russia, as set out under the ‘Mutual Defense Clause’ of the Lisbon Treaty.

Despite the apparent disunity in the bloc over Ukraine’s membership, European Council President Charles Michel announced on Monday that “We will discuss Ukraine’s membership application in [the] coming days.”

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