Ukraine could become a candidate to join the EU. Here’s what it takes to get in: NPR

European Union leaders will meet in Brussels on Thursday, where they are expected to approve Ukraine as a candidate for EU accession – a process that will not be quick or easy.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

European Union leaders will meet tomorrow in Brussels, where they are expected to approve Ukraine as a candidate for EU accession. This is a process that is not quick or easy. NPR’s Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz is here to walk us through the process. Hey, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Okay, so not like this is an up-or-down mood, welcome-to-the-club, come-on-in-type situation. What does it take for Ukraine to join the EU?

SCHMITZ: Well, the European Union is an exclusive club that, to join, you have to meet an extremely long list of criteria to ensure that your government and economy align with the bloc’s overarching principles. And it often requires an overhaul of a candidate country’s political system, as well as its financial sector, which is monitored and then tested over a long period of time by EU officials. There are several other countries queuing up to join the EU such as Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro, and they all face challenges. I spoke to Barbara Lippert about this. She is research director of the German Institute for Politics and Security. This is what she said about the EU process.

BARBARA LIPPERT: It rules large parts of not only business, but also the normal life of the citizens. So this is really a huge task for Ukraine and it will take at least 10 years to meet all these criteria.

KELLY: Hold on, Rob – 10 years or so?

SCHMITZ: Yes.

KELLIE: Wow.

SCHMITZ: (Laughter).

KELLIE: Why?

SCHMITZ: The European Union does everything slowly and meticulously, sometimes painfully, especially when it comes to deciding who gets to participate. The bloc wants to ensure that the Ukrainian government is a healthy democracy. At its core is an independent legal system, free from the influence of any political party. And this is a problem with full members, such as Poland and Hungary, and it is also a problem in Ukraine. On the economic side, the EU requires a level playing field within its members’ internal markets, and Ukraine has a history of oligarchs dominating the market, receiving government contracts and crowding out competitors. So that’s another big problem that Kiev has to solve to join the EU, and all this takes a lot of time.

KELLY: Worth mentioning, Ukraine has been through a lot – they’re in the middle of a war.

SCHMITZ: That’s right. And because we don’t know how this war will end and what Ukraine will look like when it comes time to join the EU, you know, this gets complicated. It is the first time that the EU grants candidate status and opens negotiations with a country at war with its neighbours, so it is very difficult to see where it is headed.

KELLY: Well, and it begs the question of how useful it is for the EU to vote and say yes, you can run for candidate. Is this just optics, or what is the hope of what this will achieve?

SCHMITZ: First, it gives Ukraine a little bit of hope at a time when Kiev really needs it. I mean, we are approaching the fourth month of a war in which Ukraine is slowly losing parts of its territory to advancing troops from Russia. Second, it gives impetus to political reformers in Ukraine, eager to reform the country’s government to root out corruption and make Ukraine a healthier democracy. It is important to point out that Ukraine was not a fully developed democracy with transparent markets and a fair justice system. This is a country that has faced all kinds of challenges to a system built on a Western governance model, and this candidate status for the EU shows that it is ready and willing to make the necessary changes to participate. make that model.

KELLY: Rob Schmitz from the NPR, thanks for your coverage.

SCHMITZ: Thank you very much.

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