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Ukraine’s Road to EU: recent updates and future steps

Following eight years of thorough work on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, Ukraine has submitted its application for membership on February 28, 2022, five days into Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The application was largely positively perceived in the EU, with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stating in an interview: “They are one of us, and we want them in.”

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, European Council President Charles Michel,
and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the EU-Ukraine Summit in Kyiv. February 3, 2023.
Photo: The Office of the President of Ukraine

Upon receiving the candidate status in June 2022, Ukraine opened a brand new chapter of relations with the EU. The new status, however, was complemented by seven additional recommendations by the European Commission. Their implementation is needed to advance the process of European integration further. Driven by the wish to keep up the pace of the reinvigorated European integration, the Ukrainian government committed to implementing all of them by the end of 2022, despite the full-scale war. An ambitious goal set in a challenging time, this was not achieved in this tight deadline. The implementation of all seven recommendations started in 2022, though. 

Progress on seven recommendations 

The first recommendation concerns the establishment of a new procedure for the selection of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine judges. A law was adopted, however, there are still two crucial recommendations of the Venice Commission to be implemented. Ukraine’s Prime Minister expressed readiness to amend the newly adopted law accordingly. 

The second recommendation points out to necessity to form the new composition of the High Council of Justice (HCJ) – a self-government judicial body in charge of appointing and dismissing judges, as well as imposing disciplinary sanctions, and of the High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ) – a collective body charged with the selection of judges. In the case of the HCJ, the minimum required number of members (which is 15) was appointed and the selection of five more is ongoing. In the case of the HQCJ, it is expected that the Selection Commission will recommend 16 members for appointment in March 2023. 

The third recommendation concerns an effective fight against corruption. To implement this recommendation, a National Anti-Corruption Strategy was adopted, and a new head of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office was appointed. The selection of the new Head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau is ongoing and is expected to be finished in spring 2023. Additionally, a State Anti-Corruption Program is to be adopted in the nearest future. 

The fourth recommendation aims at facilitating the fight against money laundering and launching a comprehensive law enforcement sector reform. Several legislative acts are already in place, several are being developed, and by the end of the spring, Ukraine expects to adopt a strategy for the law enforcement sector reform.

The fifth recommendation demands the implementation of the Anti-oligarchic law. The essence of its implementation is the elaboration and adoption of the secondary legislation, some of which are already adopted and some are still underway. 

The sixth recommendation focuses on the media sphere. A comprehensive media law has been adopted, and a bill on advertising is being developed. 

The seventh recommendation strives to enhance the protection of national minorities. A law on national minorities was adopted, and consultations with national minorities representatives on the ways of its implementation are ongoing. Additionally, a state program “Unity in Diversity” is being developed. 

The work on the seven recommendations is still ongoing, but the plan is to implement all of them by the end of spring 2023. Upon that, we are ready to proceed. So, what’s next? 

Next steps needed for Ukraine to join EU

The next step for Ukraine in our accession marathon is the start of the negotiations. Negotiations are a complicated process that usually takes between three and seven years. They are structured around 35 chapters of the EU law – the so-called EU acquis. Basically, the chapters are 35 policy areas in which Ukrainian legislation has to be approximated to the EU law. 

Later on, when all 35 chapters are closed, an accession treaty is signed. It should be supported by the European Parliament and ratified by the parliaments of all 27 member-states and the Ukrainian parliament. This completes the Ukrainian accession journey and Ukraine becomes a full member of the European Union. 

The numbers on the left signify the preparation stage,
and the numbers inside the circles correspond to the number of chapters at that stage.

On the day of the EU-Ukraine Summit in Kyiv, the European Commission published its preliminary analytical report on Ukraine’s preparedness for the transposition of the EU acquis. Ukraine has eight chapters in which it is at the early stage of preparation, 15 chapters with some level of preparation, three chapters where Ukraine is moderately prepared, and four chapters with a good level of preparation. Still, a good amount of work needs to be done to get Ukraine to the well-advanced stage in all 35 chapters.

And speaking of the Summit – why was it so important? 

Expectations and results of the EU-Ukraine Summit 

The main expectation of Ukraine was to get assurances of support for the swift integration, the recovery process, and the peace plan. All these expectations were fulfilled to some degree. 

The EU agreed that it will provide a formal report of the status of the implementation of seven recommendations. This will come a bit earlier than the annual assessment of all candidate states as part of the enlargement package. This annual assessment, published in autumn, will become the first comprehensive assessment of Ukraine’s progress along with other candidate states. However, the decision to make an update report in spring creates a window of opportunity to receive a recommendation from the European Commission to start the negotiations by the end of 2023. 

In this context, the Ukrainian side aims to start the process of self-screening of the compliance of the Ukrainian legislation with EU law on the basis of the Commission Staff Working Document. EU welcomed the initiative to prepare the National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA) on the preparedness of Ukraine in the acquis chapters, which is basically a roadmap for the next stages of EU integration. 

The EU also supported Ukraine’s peace plan, reiterated its support of Ukraine’s right to free Crimea in a military way, reinforced its support for the creation of a mechanism to hold Russia accountable for the military aggression, and highlighted its commitment to finding a way to transfer frozen Russia’s assets to Ukraine. Additionally, the EU allocates the first billion dollars for Ukraine’s fast recovery. 

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, European Council President Charles Michel,
and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen at the EU-Ukraine Summit in Kyiv. February 3, 2023.
Photo: The Office of the President of Ukraine

In the sphere of economic cooperation, the EU has agreed to consider the prolongation of the lifting of all import duties for Ukrainian exporters. Ukraine is also soon to join the European free-roaming, which it uses, as of now, on a temporary basis. Sides also agreed to step up the work of the EU’s preliminary assessment missions and other steps needed to start negotiations on the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA). The ACAA allows Ukrainian products to enter the EU market with a Ukrainian certificate of quality standards conformity and vice versa. 

Read more: Welcome Ukraine and welcome stronger Union. What happens if Ukraine joins the EU?

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, stated at the press conference of the EU-Ukraine Summit that “the future of Ukraine is within the European Union. Ukrainian people, you have made a clear choice for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. And we in the EU have also made a clear decision: your future is with us, in our common European Union, your destiny is our destiny. ” 

Accession to the European Union is by no means a sprint, it is a marathon, consisting of a long way of milestones to be achieved to unlock further progress. Mistakenly, EU accession is often perceived as a way to boost the quality of life in a country. However, EU membership is not a magic pill for solving all the problems. A state undergoes a complicated process of internal quality transformations, and the quality of life significantly increases before the actual accession. That is why one should not perceive it as a goal in itself. Our goal is to achieve a quality transformation of the country. And that is exactly the way we are going now. 

Yuliia Shaipova, European Integration Team Lead at Centre for Economic Recovery