Zelensky eyeing fast-track EU membership ahead of Kyiv summit, but likely to be disappointed


Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, second right, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, second left, attend EU summit in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 2. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

EU leaders are in Kyiv for a summit with Ukraine, the first such summit to take place since Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade the country.

The two parties will talk about multiple things, from European military and humanitarian support to further action against Russia.

Top of the agenda, however, will be talks about Ukraine joining the EU. On this, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is likely to be left disappointed. Yes, the EU has accepted Ukraine as a candidate state. Yes, Europe has broadly rallied to support Ukraine in defending itself against Russian aggression. But joining the EU is a complicated, lengthy process that, no matter how urgent Ukraine’s wishes, cannot be sped up.

Ahead of the summit, Zelensky announced a widespread crackdown on corruption in Ukraine. It’s no secret that the scale of corruption in his country would make joining the EU any time soon difficult, so the move is to be welcomed. But while Ukraine is still at war, it’s going to be very difficult for the EU to properly assess how much this action has achieved.

Perhaps more importantly, the people in Kyiv are representatives from the European institutions rather than the heads of government.

Anything complicated in the EU — and countries joining is about the most complicated — requires the agreement of all 27 members. This can takes over 10 years. They don’t just have to agree on a country joining, they have to agree that the candidate country has met all sorts of criteria through a series of votes that in some cases has to be approved back in domestic parliaments of member states. And with member states almost always disagreeing over some issue or another, these votes can be used as bargaining chips.

So, in a nutshell, the EU can promise Ukraine more support among other things Kyiv might want right now. But on the big question, even the heads of the institutions are at the mercy of domestic European politics.


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