Von der Leyen recommends accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addresses the EU Parliament in Brussels, Belgium November 8, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman

European Union leaders have been urged by the European Commission to start formal discussions concerning the accession of Ukraine and Moldova to the bloc once both countries have completed the necessary reforms. The EU executive proposed that the Council initiate accession negotiations with these countries, highlighting the progress made by Ukraine and Moldova in their reform efforts.

This recommendation, if approved by all 27 member states, could be endorsed during the upcoming European Council summit in mid-December. It represents a departure from the traditional approach being the first time the European Commission has given the green light for formal accession talks before a country fully meets all the prerequisites. The urgency stems from Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

The technical work for these negotiations could start as soon as it is approved by EU leaders, aiming to swiftly adopt the negotiating framework once both Ukraine and Moldova finalise the pending reforms. The Commission aims to provide a progress report on the completion of these reforms by March next year.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen mentioned that the process remains merit-based, without a fixed timeline for full membership. Stressing the significance of enlargement for the EU, she underscored the historical significance of the Union in this regard.

Both Ukraine and Moldova, granted official EU candidate status in June last year, have welcomed the Commission’s recommendation. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna expressed the country’s readiness to announce its next steps in response to these recommendations, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed it as a historic step towards a stronger EU with Ukraine as a member. Moldova’s President Maia Sandu also affirmed her commitment to tirelessly work towards EU membership.

The geopolitical relevance of integrating the EU’s eastern flank has been acknowledged by EU leaders, as the Commission’s recommendation also includes upgrading Georgia’s status to that of an official EU candidate country.

As per the assessment, Ukraine has fulfilled four out of seven pre-conditions for negotiations, requiring further work on anti-corruption, de-oligarchisation, and minority rights. Moldova needs to finalise judicial reforms and introduce additional anti-corruption measures.

However, concerns exist among some EU leaders regarding the reforms. While there is a major probability that member states will back the talks in the December summit, some prefer to delay formal negotiations into 2024 to ensure proper completion of reforms.

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