Brussels urged to rein in Ukraine’s ‘unrealistic’ EU hopes

EU member states have warned Brussels in opposition to giving Ukraine an unrealistic expectation of quickly becoming a member of the bloc, forward of a summit in Kyiv the place Volodymyr Zelenskyy is urgent for progress on accession and reconstruction.

Zelenskyy is because of host his EU counterparts Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel this week, the place he’s anticipated to foyer for the nation’s EU membership, the usage of frozen Russian property to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction and a authorized mechanism to prosecute Russians for conflict crimes.

Senior diplomats from EU capitals are involved that unfeasible Ukrainian expectations — together with EU accession by 2026 — have been inspired quite than tempered by Brussels’ prime officers.

“No political chief needs to be on the fallacious facet of historical past . . . No person needs to be blamed for not doing sufficient,” mentioned one senior EU diplomat. “In order that they inform them it’s all attainable.”

In response to Russia’s invasion final February, the EU scrambled to assist Ukraine by way of navy, humanitarian and monetary packages, together with sanctions in opposition to Russia which have hit the bloc’s personal economies. The EU additionally took the unprecedented step of constructing Ukraine an official membership candidate, regardless of it falling in need of the usual necessities.

However whereas some central and jap European member states have championed Ukraine’s calls for, different northern and western capitals fear about how its massive, poor inhabitants and huge agricultural sector could possibly be built-in with the EU.

France’s president Emmanuel Macron has been notably cautious in regards to the velocity of Ukraine’s accession, warning in Might, earlier than the nation was formally made a candidate, that the method may take “a number of a long time”. 

The EU’s management has struck an optimistic tone. European Fee president von der Leyen mentioned on a go to to Kyiv in September that the “accession course of is nicely on observe”. “It’s spectacular to see the velocity, the willpower, the preciseness with which you might be progressing,” she added.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and president of the European Council Charles Michel, second left
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, and president of the European Council Charles Michel, second left © Ruslan Kaniuka/Reuters

European Council president Michel mentioned this month that “no effort” must be spared to “flip this promise right into a actuality as quick as we will”. “Ukraine is the EU and the EU is Ukraine,” he advised Ukraine’s parliament.

That rhetoric has created expectations in Kyiv that it deserves particular privileges and a speedy entry into the bloc. Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal has mentioned he envisages a two-year timetable.

“There’s not going to be a fast-track path for Ukraine’s EU membership,” mentioned a second EU diplomat. “There’s a threat that rhetoric clashes with actuality.”

A number of member state officers advised the FT the fee wanted to clarify to Ukraine that there have been big hurdles forward of starting formal accession negotiations, which themselves can take a decade or extra.

“That hole [between promises and reality] has been rising for a while. And we’re attending to the purpose the place it’s too large,” mentioned a 3rd EU diplomat. “They seem to imagine that they will simply change into a member tomorrow. And that’s clearly not the case.”

Von der Leyen and different commissioners will meet Ukrainian authorities officers as a part of the journey, with the fee president and Michel, who represents the 27 member states, resulting from maintain a summit with Zelenskyy on Friday.

“Now we have all famous the reform momentum that’s ongoing in Ukraine,” mentioned one senior EU official forward of the conferences, pointing for instance to work on the rule of legislation and anti-corruption efforts. The discussions in Kyiv will spotlight the necessity for additional reforms, whereas additionally concerning financial co-operation and decreasing commerce obstacles with the EU.

Michel and von der Leyen have additionally been distinguished in calling for member states to discover methods to make use of the proceeds of Russian central financial institution property frozen in European banks within the reconstruction of Ukraine.

“Von der Leyen and Michel may be outcompeting one another on who can present themselves to be extra pro-Ukrainian,” mentioned one of many EU diplomats.

The price of reconstruction and restoration was estimated at almost €350bn by Ukraine, Brussels and the World Financial institution final September, and the value tag has solely mounted since then as weekly Russian missile and drone assaults have broken vital infrastructure.

However these calls to deploy the property have been made regardless of large questions throughout the fee itself over how possible such a route could be.

Didier Reynders, the EU justice commissioner, advised the FT this week that the thought of utilizing Russian authorities property was “a really advanced situation”. “I’d say not solely on the authorized facet but additionally for the nice functioning of the financial system,” he mentioned.

The EU can also be divided over the format of a possible tribunal to analyze and search to prosecute Russians for alleged conflict crimes in Ukraine.

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