EU: Ukraine and Moldova obtain candidate status

The hesitant countries buried their reluctance. A “total consensus” was built among the 27 to grant them EU candidate status.

EU: Ukraine and Moldova gain candidate status

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The European Council was due to discuss it on Thursday; in truth, the decision is already made: Ukraine and Moldova obtain the status of candidate of the European Union in record time! The 27 resulted in a “total consensus”, according to Clément Beaune, the Minister Delegate for European Affairs, at the end of the General Affairs Council which was held on Tuesday in Luxembourg, in preparation for the European Council.

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All the reluctant countries – Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal – agreed with the opinion of the European Commission, itself preceded by the trip to kyiv by the heads of the executive of the three major countries, Emmanuel Macron for France , Olaf Scholz for Germany and Mario Draghi for Italy, accompanied by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

The buried doubts of Antonio Costa

Jeppe Kofod, the head of Danish diplomacy, made a clear position when arriving in Luxembourg: “We want to help Ukrainians achieve their European dreams. It is also true that there are many conditions that must be met, the Copenhagen criteria, the rule of law, a well-established democracy, a functioning economy, etc. […] This is good news and I hope it is something that encourages more solidarity in Europe. »

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa had publicly expressed his doubts, preferring more direct ways to help Ukraine: “For this clear and immediate support, he said, we don't need to open right now. a negotiation or a procedure that will take many years – Macron says decades, I am not saying decades, but certainly a long long time. The big risk is to create false expectations that turn into bitter disappointment. Less legal debates, more practical solutions.

Hungary pushes to protect its minority in Ukraine

But, under pressure from major countries and favorable public opinion, Costa gave up trying to block. In a tweet posted on Tuesday afternoon, he said he reached Zelensky on the phone: “I reaffirmed that Portugal will follow the opinion of the Commission and the support for its recommendation to grant Ukraine candidate status. We are ready to strengthen our political and technical cooperation in support of Ukraine's accession process. The Dutchman Mark Rutte does not want to make a casus belli either. So much so that the last opponents aligned themselves with the countries that were pushing the most in favor of Ukraine, starting with Morawiecki's Poland and Lithuania under the leadership of President Gitanas Nauseda.

Hungary has also long wanted Ukraine to join the EU for a reason of its own. “There is a Hungarian minority in Ukraine, established for centuries. It is a political legacy. And we want to secure their living, linguistic and cultural environment, which are all elements of conditionality for membership,” explains Zoltan Kovacs, Hungarian State Secretary for Public Diplomacy, who was in Paris on Tuesday, June 21. Tensions have also arisen between Ukraine and Hungary over the treatment of this Hungarian minority. Membership would be, in a way, a guarantee that the rights of this minority would be respected by Kyiv.

How the “European perspective” stage was skipped

President Zelensky has pulled off a masterstroke: through his skill, his art of communicating with public opinion, making reluctant leaders feel guilty, the former actor has succeeded in crossing two subjects that have nothing to do with one another. with the other: Ukraine's accession to the EU and the war against the Russian aggressor. Candidate status offers nothing immediately to Ukraine, neither in terms of armaments nor in terms of funding. What the Europeans offer elsewhere. Hats off to the artist! Indeed, before the war in Ukraine, it would have been unthinkable to offer that country “candidate status”. Especially since in principle it is necessary to go through the preliminary stage of the “European perspective”.

For the first time, the European Union has skipped this step. The “European perspective” is a way of sealing a political promise between member states to open up, one day, the European family to the state that is offered it. In Versailles, during the March summit, the 27 debated for four hours the “European perspective” of Ukraine without reaching an agreement. The final statement does not include this expression. Just read what is written there: “The European Council took note of Ukraine's European aspirations and its choice to look towards Europe, in accordance with the Association Agreement. We do not grant the European perspective, we recognize the aspiration of the Ukrainians to be part of it, it is very different. Under pressure from Poland and the Baltic countries, the Council concedes, in Versailles, that “Ukraine is part of our European family”. It's already better than nothing, but it's not the “European perspective”. However, Volodymyr Zelensky, with the help of Gitanas Nauseda and Kaja Kallas (Estonian Prime Minister), managed to bypass this step to directly win candidate status.

Paris is trying to mediate between Bulgarians and Macedonians

Some countries, such as Austria or Germany, felt that we should not neglect the Western Balkan countries which have been waiting for a long time in the antechamber of the EU. The European summit is precisely preceded by a meeting with the countries of the Western Balkans, the scene of a permanent confrontation between Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Saudi influences… Despite intense diplomatic discussions for several weeks, there is little chance that the Western Balkans will obtain a precise timetable for accession, as demanded by the EPP. In any case, the draft conclusions do not mention any date, just a simple “call to speed up the accession process”.

Among these countries of the former Yugoslavia, some are more advanced than others: negotiations are launched with Serbia and Montenegro. Problem: Aleksandar Vucic's Serbia is susceptible to influence from Moscow and Beijing and does not apply European sanctions. A commitment is expected from him by the 27. “Mr. Vucic, it's time to decide now. This is the moment of truth for the European perspective. Are you on the European side or the Russian side? asked Manfred Weber, President of the EPP (European Christian Democrats). President Vucic's party (the Serbian Progressive Party) is a member of the EPP, which also means that the EPP has to settle an internal debate with Vucic's representatives within it.

Albania, for its part, is waiting for negotiations to begin, as is North Macedonia. France, under its presidency of the EU, tried to advance the case of North Macedonia, blocked by a veto from Bulgaria. Sofia and Skopje maintain a historical dispute relating to linguistic and identity issues. For the Bulgarians, the Macedonians are Bulgarians who are mistaken in thinking that they have their own identity, the Macedonian language being, in the eyes of Sofia, only a Bulgarian dialect. France has worked to clear the land and relaunched the friendship treaty signed between the two countries in 2017. A draft agreement was sent to the Bulgarian National Assembly by the Petkov government. Doom! Now a motion of no confidence can bring down the Petkov government as early as Wednesday, the day before the Western Balkan summit… Unfortunate. Again, Manfred Weber points to the versatility of Emmanuel Macron. “It was he who blocked the opening of negotiations when a window presented itself for a green light, he recalls, referring to the European Council of October 2019. There was no veto from Bulgaria at the time. It was Macron who opposed the enlargement to Albania. It was a historic mistake. »

The Bosnian petaudière

Another delicate subject: Bosnia and Herzegovina, which submitted its candidacy in 2016. Its status as a candidate state is still not recognized by the EU given an unsatisfactory situation in terms of the rule of law. In its conclusions of 20 September 2016, the Council demanded, for example, that the Commission ensure that Jewish and Roma citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina can no longer be barred from standing for parliamentary elections and the highest public offices in the country ( Sejdić and Finci judgment of the European Court of Human Rights). On June 12, 2022, 12 representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina signed a “political agreement” in Brussels on the principles to ensure that this country progresses on the European path. This protocol includes 19 recommendations and commitments. But what is it really worth?

Bosnian Serbs are also playing the Russian card to break away from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their leader, Milorad Dodik (one of the signatories of the Brussels agreement), visited Vladimir Putin on June 20. Peace is fragile. The country is once again on the road to civil war… However, several eastern countries – including Hungary – are campaigning for Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the European Union. “If the Balkan countries are not attached to the EU, then others will take care of it, the Russians, the Chinese or the Arabs”, warns Zoltan Kovacs.

See our file: War in Ukraine