Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the president of the European Fee, Ursula von der Leyen, talking of Kyiv’s ties with the EU, mentioned that “they’re considered one of us, they belong to us and we wish them in.” These public remarks sparked a significant debate on Ukraine’s accession prospects and characterize a discursive shift within the European Union’s stance relating to potential membership. A change in discourse won’t robotically result in Ukraine’s goals of accession being instantly fulfilled, but it surely strengthens the legitimacy of its bid, which is more and more perceived as a legitimate coverage possibility.

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After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed his nation’s software for candidate standing, the European Parliament adopted a decision calling “for the EU establishments to work in direction of granting EU candidate standing to Ukraine.” On this vein, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola confirmed that “we acknowledge Ukraine’s European perspective.” As well as, a gaggle of eight member states expressed assist for EU establishments to “conduct steps to right away grant Ukraine [an] EU candidate nation standing and open the method of negotiations” as they “strongly consider that Ukraine deserves receiving an instantaneous EU accession perspective.”

No Direct Path

Ukraine’s path towards the EU was by no means a straight line main up so far. Whereas former President Leonid Kuchma formulated Ukraine’s want to be a part of the EU all through the Nineties and early 2000s, the bloc was initially reserved with regard to those aspirations. A Partnership and Cooperation Settlement (PCA) between the EU and Ukraine entered into pressure in March 1998, however an absence of implementation, in addition to the upsurge of autocratic tendencies in Ukrainian home politics, led former European Fee President Romano Prodi to formulate the “sharing every little thing with the Union however establishments” paradigm. 

In 2002, Prodi declared that we “can not merely ignore what is occurring past our borders. Neither can we clear up issues with our new neighbours just by letting them be a part of the Union.” He was referring to endemic corruption, extreme impediments to the rule of regulation or lack of freedom and independence of the media that proceed to plague the nation. Freedom Home nonetheless labels Ukraine as solely “partly free.”

Regardless of this, EUUkraine cooperation intensified all through the years with the adoption of an EUUkraine Motion Plan and Kyiv becoming a member of the Jap Partnership inside the European Neighborhood Coverage (ENP) framework. Whereas the ENP establishes a “particular relationship with 16 of its closest neighbours who’re at the moment not thought-about potential candidates for becoming a member of the EU,” Ukraine maintained its rhetoric of a pro-EU membership course. 

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The aftermath of the Euromaidan protests, the inauguration of a brand new Ukrainian authorities and the signing of the EUUkraine Affiliation Settlement in June 2014 have been accompanied by contradictory statements on the query of Ukrainian membership aspirations on the a part of the EU. Stefan Fule, the EU commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood coverage, argued in favor of Ukraine‘s admission in the long run. 

Moreover, from 2014 onward, the European Parliament repeatedly said in its resolutions that UKraine has “a European perspective” and that “pursuant to Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine — like some other European state — have a European perspective and should apply to grow to be members of the Union supplied that they adhere to the rules of democracy, respect basic freedoms and human and minority rights and make sure the rule of regulation.”

In distinction, then German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised in 2015 that the Jap Partnership shall not be understood as an “instrument for EU-accession” and that “Ukraine should first meet all of the envisaged circumstances.” Much more explicitly, former EU Fee President Jean-Claude Juncker maintained that “Ukraine will certainly not be capable to grow to be a member of the EU within the subsequent 20 to 25 years, and never of NATO both.”

Drawing Nearer

Juncker’s place and the EU’s extra cautious reactions relating to Ukraine’s membership aspirations mark a substantial distinction to the present discourse inside the bloc. However whereas von der Leyen’s handle to the European Parliament is a optimistic step ahead, it doesn’t imply that the discursive shift on the topic will essentially result in Ukraine’s accession. As a substitute, such rhetoric contributes to rendering this coverage possibility extra applicable and legit. 

With the intention to open this “coverage house,” as Lene Hansen, professor of worldwide relations on the College of Copenhagen, put it in 2006, Ukraine’s drawing nearer to the bloc have to be introduced as a plan of action that conforms with the EU’s id.

Following this line of thought, in her speech, von der Leyen highlighted Ukraine’s European character. Not solely did she declare that the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine signifies that “Battle has returned to Europe” (though conflict has been ongoing in Jap Ukraine since 2014), she additionally refers to Kyiv as a “European capital” and argues that “the European Union and Ukraine are already nearer than ever earlier than.” Von der Leyen additionally emphasised that “No one on this hemicycle can doubt {that a} folks that stands up so bravely for our European values belongs in our European household.”

References to values don’t solely operate as a method to assemble a way of neighborhood with Ukraine. In addition they set up a transparent line of distinction to Russia. On this respect, von der Leyen cites a Ukrainian newspaper stating that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marks “a conflict of two worlds, two polar units of values.” Von der Leyen builds on this quote and argues that “this can be a conflict between the rule of regulation and the rule of the gun; between democracies and autocracies; between a rules-based order and a world of bare aggression.” 

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She attracts a transparent line not solely between the EU itself but in addition different actors who share these values and Russia on the diametrically opposed aspect. That Ukraine continues to wrestle with corruption, restricted political rights and civil liberties in addition to a weak rule of regulation doesn’t match into this discourse and so is now not related.

Von der Leyen holds that “If Putin was searching for to divide the European Union, to weaken NATO, and to interrupt the worldwide neighborhood, he has achieved precisely the alternative. We’re extra united than ever.” Certainly, this completely displays what Australian political scientist David Campbell identified already at first of the Nineties, specifically that overseas coverage discourses lend themselves significantly nicely to the institution of an understanding of the within versus the (threatening) outdoors — that’s, to assemble id by way of distinction. 

In that sense, the EU doesn’t solely must “arise towards this merciless aggression” because of the values that it shares with Ukraine and deems attacked by the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but in addition as a result of “The future of Ukraine is at stake, however our personal destiny additionally lies within the steadiness,” as von der Leyen states. Thus, the EU’s personal safety and freedom are intently linked to the state of affairs in Ukraine.

Diplomatic Tightrope

Whereas von der Leyen’s handle to the European Parliament completely helps the discursive shift that’s at the moment going down inside the EU relating to nearer cooperation with Ukraine, she emphasizes that “There may be nonetheless an extended path forward.” It stays unlikely that the EU will admit Ukraine through an accelerated process within the midst of an ongoing conflict; this could override the Copenhagen Standards that decide whether or not a state is eligible to accede to the EU.

However, the present discourse lays the muse for consolidating and popularizing the demand for Ukraine’s accession. Therefore, it’s now as much as the EU to seek out methods to reconcile this discourse with Russian issues and to de-escalate the continued battle. 

In line with Hiski Haukkala, a professor of Worldwide Relations on the College of Tampere, from 2014 onward, the EU has tried to carry out a balancing act between exhibiting solidarity with Ukraine and condemning Russia’s makes an attempt to discourage Kyiv from following a pro-European path whereas concurrently making an attempt to allay Moscow’s unease relating to these developments.

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Just like Ukraine’s aspiration to affix NATO, Haukkala foresaw in 2015 “that each EURussia relations and the broader European safety order might be in for a wider and longer disruption than has at the moment been witnessed” attributable to this growing collision. That is precisely the state of affairs we discover ourselves in in the intervening time.

How can the EU protect its credibility after stating that Ukraine “belongs to the European household” and that its “personal destiny additionally lies within the steadiness” with out including gasoline to the fireplace of Russia’s safety issues? What the EU wants now could be a transparent technique relating to a sustainable postwar European safety order that have to be, whether or not we prefer it or not, coordinated with Moscow. This doesn’t imply that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is justified by supposed Russian safety issues. 

However, this conflict should finish instantly as a way to avert an immense humanitarian disaster and to stop the conflict from spilling to neighboring international locations. Contemplating that Georgia and Moldova are reported to be ready at hand of their EU membership software any minute now, the union wants a extra sturdy, diplomatically delicate technique towards the japanese international locations with which it maintains affiliation agreements. The EU urgently wants to supply solutions to the query of the way it might attempt for additional japanese enlargement with out it being met with Russian aggression. 

When requested in regards to the earliest doable date for Ukrainian accession, von der Leyen replied that “That is onerous to say. … Reforms must be finished, processes must be arrange.” This means {that a} clear method towards Europe’s japanese neighborhood and to Russia specifically continues to be wanting.

In her speech, Ursula von der Leyen adopted the phrase “Slava Ukraini” — “Glory to Ukraine” — utilized by President Zelenskyy throughout his handle to the European Parliament. The phrase is a greeting that grew to become intently linked to the Euromaidan protests in modern Ukrainian public consciousness. It conveys the imaginative and prescient of an impartial and free Ukraine searching for cooperation with the EU

Whereas the European Union’s discourse demonstrates that this imaginative and prescient already resonates extra strongly than ever earlier than, it appears unlikely that Ukraine will be capable to be a part of the EU anytime quickly. The European Council has to unanimously approve a rustic’s software, which is able to stay unrealistic so long as the core drawback of overcoming the dividing line between the West and the EU on the one hand and Russia on the opposite stays unresolved.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.