December 5, 2023

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Advancing Forward: Formal EU Negotiations and the Reforms of Ukraine and Moldova

Formal negotiations with Kyiv should begin if the country satisfies requirements in areas like combating corruption, report says.

Ursula von der Leyen, chairperson of the European Commission, called the commission’s recommendation to start formal EU membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova “a response to the call of history.”

The EU stated in a 1,200-page report on potential future EU enlargement that formal negotiations should begin as soon as Kyiv satisfies the last few requirements pertaining to stepping up the fight against corruption, passing a law on lobbying that complies with EU regulations, and bolstering protections for national minorities.

The report also suggested granting Georgia candidate status, which would put it on the route to eventual admission, and starting accession negotiations with Bosnia—but only if certain requirements were met.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, responded to the decision in a Telegram post, praising it as a long-awaited turning point in Kyiv’s integration process and a strategic move for the west given that his nation has been battling Russia’s invasion since February 2022.

Zelenskiy stated on Telegram that ““Today, the history of Ukraine and the whole of Europe has made the right step,” He added “Our nation ought to be a member of the European Union.”

According to Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, his country has survived “the most difficult time any European nation has faced in modern history” thanks in part to the prospect of a “European future for our children.”

“Our fight and sacrifices are not in vain. Our transformation is recognized. Our dreams and hopes are coming true,” Kuleba posted on X, the former Twitter platform.

The largest EU expansion since 2004, when ten nations—Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states, and Hungary—joined the bloc, may result from the commission’s decision, which prime ministers must approve at a summit in December.

Von der Leyen highlighted, “Completing our union is the call of history. It is the natural horizon.” Membership of the EU was a powerful lever that would boost the economies and stability of the bloc”, she added.

She said: “The neighborhood, our neighborhood, has to choose where they want to go. And the western Balkans, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine chose very clearly where they want to go.”

Von der Leyen added: “If you look into the report and you see the list of reforms, it shows determination, the steadfastness and the political will of the population” of those countries.

The progress report concentrated on the reforms required in ten countries—including Georgia and the six Balkan states—that have requested membership in the EU.

Additionally, the European Commission suggests creating a €6 billion (£5.2 billion) “accession fund” that would make twice-yearly payments to encourage reforms in the waiting-room countries. They won’t get the money back if they put off reforms.

Although it was recommended that talks with Moldova and Ukraine be initiated “unconditionally,” both nations have been asked to finish the reforms they had started before the talks get serious. By March, the commission believes they can accomplish this.

For instance, Ukraine is being asked to finish implementing anti-corruption laws by putting some already established laws into effect and altering the asset declaration procedures currently in use for public employees.

It also wants more authority to review the asset declaration list if fresh information indicates that politicians have conflicts of interest. This authority would be given to the body in charge of maintaining the list.

Regarding the rate of reforms needed for complete alignment with the EU, Moldova has been dubbed the “frontrunner,” with officials praising its “great progress” to date.

It is being asked to finalize three areas of reform, such as rules pertaining to cash payments in the public system and the staffing of anti-corruption offices.

“I’m very confident that Moldova will move on because [its] track record is impressive under very difficult circumstances,” Von der Leyen said

When questioned about why conditions were placed on the start of negotiations with Bosnia, von der Leyen refuted the idea that Brussels was effectively blocking accession.

“We open the door very wide. We invite Bosnia and Herzegovina to go through the door,” she said.

According to officials, a negotiation team will be dispatched to Kyiv and Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, “that night” if the leaders of the European Union accept the recommendations at their upcoming summit on December 15.

The lengthy and arduous task of determining which laws require revision, rewriting, or elimination in order to incorporate the 40,000 pages of accumulated laws that make up the EU will subsequently begin.

Additional anti-corruption and oligarch influence reforms, referred to as “leftovers” by an EU official, will also need to be implemented in Ukraine and Moldova.

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