This first stage of the process can take anything between several months and several years - though in theory, the EU could decide to speed this up for Ukraine if it wanted to.
Conducting and concluding accession talks
Then come the negotiations themselves. These are structured in 35 "Chapters", each covering a distinct aspect of EU membership (single market, environment, social policy, etc). Several chapters being negotiated negotiated at one time. As part of the acquis, a new EU member state must join Schengen and adopt the euro - though both of these can be phased in over time.
The length of negotiations varies. Finland took two years to negotiate its accession. Conversely, Turkey formally requested to join the EU in 1987 and has been in accession talks since 2004 - though negotiations were halted in 2018. There are many reasons for this. Some member states, like France, believe the EU should resolve internal problems and tensions before welcoming new members.
Another reason had to do with Turkey’s population size of 84 million. In the EU, a member state’s voting weight in the Council depends on the size of its population (though numbers are not strictly proportional). This doesn’t matter when unanimity voting is concerned, but it does when the Council uses majority voting for new single market regulations for example. Similarly, countries with the largest populations have more seats in the European Parliament. If Ukraine joined, it would be the fifth largest country in the EU after Germany, France, Spain and Italy.
Once negotiations are over, both parties sign the agreement. They need to ratify the agreement before it can come into force. For the EU, this means unanimity in Council and majority vote in the EU Parliament. Since the Lisbon Treaty, all member-states are required to ratify the deal, in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. Today, most national parliaments would be required to vote. France may need to organise a referendum. Some regional parliaments may also need to vote: this is the case in Belgium for example.
Sending a strong political message
The prospect of Ukraine joining the EU seems remote - but for the first time, it also feels plausible. That matters and carries huge political significance.
Thousands of Ukrainians are fighting for independence, liberal democracy and freedom in Ukraine, but also in Europe. Granting Ukraine candidate status would be a small victory in a future that is shrouded in doubt.
This article was written with the help of Cecilia Vidotto Labastie and Gwendoline de Boé of Institut Montaigne’s Europe program.
Copyright: François WALSCHAERTS / AFP
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