How Brussels Assesses Kyiv's Readiness to Join the EU: Analytical Report

Tuesday, 7 February 2023 — , European Pravda
Ursula von der Leyen hands Volodymyr Zelenskyy a document that shows that Ukraine is still far from being ready for membership. Photo of the press service of the president

Over a dozen top European Union officials from Brussels arrived in Kyiv last week to attend a summit and a joint meeting with the EU and Ukraine officials, thereby sending a signal of support to the war-torn country.

There are two more signals to Ukraine that complement each other.

First, the EU already makes it clear publicly that one day Ukraine will join the European Union. Even enlargement skeptics like the Netherlands have given their political consent.

Secondly, Brussels signals that Kyiv should have a сlear mind, moving towards the EU. Joining the EU is possible only if Kyiv meets all the complex criteria. Overly optimistic statements from Ukraine's government about two years of accession negotiations convince Brussels that Kyiv does not understand the scale of the procedure.

Ursula von der Leyen personally handed over a document to President Zelenskyy on Thursday, which aims to solve the last issue. It was an assessment of compliance with the acquis, i.e., EU law, which the European Commission carried out simultaneously for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

We analysed this and similar EU documents. The main conclusions are as follows.

- Ukraine's readiness for accession is not high: Kyiv received 2 out of 5.

- Ukraine's performance in 2022 is even worse than the Balkan states had in 2015!

- However, Ukraine's performance is much better in Moldova. This is a separate challenge considering the connection between the European perspectives of Kyiv and Chisinau.

Ukraine has excellent growth potential and may be poised to pull ahead. Kyiv should realise that several reforms determine the EU's perception of success.

Audit for Ukraine

On February 2, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, handed Volodymyr Zelenskyy a folder entitled "Analytical Reports on Ukraine's Alignment with the EU Acquis" at a personal meeting.

The 67-page document is similar to the future agreement on Ukraine's EU accession. It audits the compliance of Ukraine's legislation with the EU law according to the 33 so-called "negotiating chapters" of this agreement. They are standard for all candidate states.

This is an annual procedure for candidate states. Ukraine should obtain its first assessment in October. Brussels made an extraordinary exception - shortened assessment for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.

The document was reduced to 32 chapters, skipping the key EU chapter "justice and fundamental rights." However, the 32 sections are enough to conclude the level of Ukraine's readiness to join the EU.

The assessment methodology has been standard for all candidate states since 2015. It makes it easier to compare. They use a five-point rating scale where: 1 – initial level, 2 – some compliance with EU law, 3 – moderate compliance, 4 – good compliance, and 5 – advanced level (up to full compliance, when negotiations can be closed).

The main conclusion of the European assessment: Ukraine's level of European integration is chaotic and unsystematic.

It turned out that some Ukrainian laws and practices are really close to the EU, but in some cases, the work is only to begin.

Ukraine obtained a high rating of 4 out of 32 chapters - four points. This is the "Customs Union" bloc (important for Kyiv, which seeks greater trade liberalisation), energy, foreign policy, and security policy. The EU granted a "three" - a good rating for a novice candidate in another five areas. At the same time, there were eight areas in which Ukraine was granted the lowest score (meaning Ukraine almost did not comply with EU law).

Georgia and Moldova are not that chaotic. Their rating tends to be close to the average. However, because of this, they have a few chapters with high compliance with the EU, as is the case in Ukraine.

In total, Ukraine has scored 69 points for 32 chapters with an average score of 2.16.

Georgia is close, 67 points. Currently, Georgian-European relations are going through bad times, but the old sectoral reforms are still effective.

Moldova has obtained only 55 points. This is a catastrophically low rate. To reach the Ukrainian level, Chisinau must show a real turbo mode in carrying out reforms.

Ukraine lags significantly behind the Balkans

The fact that Ukraine is ahead of Moldova is not a good sign. Especially based on the fact that for the EU, these two countries come in one "package."

Kyiv's assessment does not give grounds for optimism. Two points out of five are extremely low for a country whose Prime Minister promises to complete negotiations on joining the EU in two years. For Brussels, it is obvious that this is impossible.

The public assessment, which Ursula von der Leyen handed over personally to Zelenskyy, is probably designed to have a "cooling" effect on the ambitions of the Ukrainian authorities.

Kyiv must understand that there is a huge volume of legislative work ahead, which cannot be completed so soon. It becomes particularly evident if we look at the performance of other candidate states calculated according to the same methodology.

Türkiye has 94 points, Serbia has 98 points. Montenegro tops the candidate ranking with 99.5 points.

An even more telling example: Albania has 84.5 points, incomparably more than Ukraine. However, Tirana is currently only at the stage of opening negotiations. Moreover, even in the 2015 report all the then-candidate states, including Albania, had better EU rapprochement scores than Ukraine in 2022.

In fact, Kyiv is now just beginning the long road to EU membership. Only when Ukraine adopts all the necessary legislation will accession be possible.

How not to become a second Türkiye?

However, the Ukrainian authorities do not change their minds. Kyiv is convinced that it will be able to impress Brussels with rapid reforms. They already plan to launch a detailed screening of the legislation that needs to be adopted.

This optimism is, to some extent, justified.

Ukraine should also avoid the mistake of the Western Balkan states, which, based on EC reports, have stopped progress since around 2016.

In addition, it is necessary to understand that there are areas in which progress will be of key importance for European politicians: fundamental EU values, such as human rights and justice.

Readers may have noticed that among the formal EU candidate leaders are Serbia and Türkiye, which have indeed implemented the most European rules and regulations. But these states are political outsiders of EU enlargement because they act contrary to fundamental values. Due to this, the negotiations of the European Union with the Turkish authorities are frozen. Pro-Russian Serbia is one step closer to suspending accession talks.

Kyiv should draw conclusions from this and follow two tracks simultaneously.

First, Ukraine must gradually fulfill the technical criteria for accession. A huge number of legislative acts will have to be amended. Secondly, it is necessary to prove to Brussels that Ukraine is rapidly solving the accumulated problems in the judicial system and human rights.

Without the simultaneous fulfillment of these two tasks, one can forget that the dream of rapid accession to the EU cannot be realised.


Author: Sergiy Sydorenko,
Editor, "European Pravda"

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