MEP Kubilius. Can Ukraine join the European Union this year?

Ukrainian and EU flags in the front of the Presidential Palace Republic of Ukraine. Photo Ruslanas Iržikevičius

Ukraine is fighting a brutal war. A war started by a madman who is scared that Ukraine, having chosen and defended its European integration course back on the Maidan in 2014, can become a successful, European state. And that would be the greatest danger for the Kremlin because the example of Ukrainian democracy might infect ordinary Russians, writes Andrius Kubilius, Member of the European Parliament.

The Ukrainians are successfully fighting and effectively defending their European choice. They are also defending the European Union as a whole, the wider EU community of European values.

It is, therefore, quite clear that Ukraine has a blood-earned right to belong to this community. After all, Ukraine not only manages to defend itself and the whole of Europe from the mad post-imperial beast but also, it seems, with the help of Western sanctions, manages to break the spine of this beast.

The world will be a different place after this war. It will be a different Ukraine, it will be a different European Union. Even Russia will be different.

Today, the question is not whether Ukraine can become a member of the European Union but how to resolve the question of Ukraine’s membership in the quickest possible way.

According to information, today, President Zelensky of Ukraine signed a formal request to the leaders of the European Union for Ukraine to be granted membership of the European Union.

The Slovak and Romanian prime ministers immediately announced that Ukraine must become a member of the EU without delay through a special fast-track procedure. The European Parliament is ready tomorrow to recommend to the EU institutions to grant Ukraine candidate status for EU membership.

The question is whether it is possible to devise such a special procedure so that Ukraine can become a member of the EU this year?

Lithuania, for example, took almost ten years to complete this process. Lithuania applied for membership in December 1995, started negotiations in October 1999, concluded the negotiations in December 2002, signed the accession treaty in April 2003, and became a member of the EU on 1 May 2004.

However, other specific experiences in the EU suggest that a country that has not been a member of the European Union before can become a member of the EU in less than a year.

And that experience is that of former East Germany becoming a member of the European Union. After the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, East Germany subsequently merged with West Germany and became a member of the European Union. There were no lengthy negotiations on East Germany’s adaptation and preparation for membership, or on the succession of the acquis, or on any other similar, sometimes lengthy, procedures, such as those that awaited us later. East Germany simply took over the entire legal framework of West Germany, then learned how to implement it as a member of the EU, and received long-term financial support from West Germany for the modernisation of its economy, which took quite a long time even after the reunification. However, East Germany went through all this long modernisation journey already as part of a united Germany and at the same time as a member of the European Union.

This whole process of East Germany’s rapid integration was made possible by a special procedure laid down in the conclusions of the European Council of 28 April 1990, which stated that East Germany’s integration into the EU would take place in parallel with its merger with West Germany, that the EU undertook to ensure that East Germany’s integration would take place smoothly and harmoniously. Furthermore, that full integration would be accompanied by entry into force of the legal agreement on a merger. As you know, the formal entry into force of such a treaty took place on 3 November 1990, and from that date, the former East German territory also became EU territory. Thus, East Germany was integrated into the European Union in less than a year.

During that year, the European Parliament set up a special temporary committee in February 1990 to discuss East German integration. It issued a special report in July 1990. It agreed that integration should go hand in hand with reunification and that exemptions for East Germany should be avoided. Accordingly, special observer status was provided for East German representatives, which lasted until the next European Parliament elections in 1994.

At the same time, it was foreseen that the East German Länder would receive €3 billion of EU structural funds for three years after integration, but also that the merged German government would commit itself to provide the large amounts of money needed to modernise the East German economy, at the cost of €110 billion each year to Germany. The EU’s budget for the East German economy was worth 110 billion German marks. This led not only to the rapid legal but also to the economic integration of East Germany.

This rapid integration of East Germany was, of course, the result of special circumstances: the Soviet Union was disintegrating, Germany was merging, and the other major Western powers wanted Germany, which had become the largest European power, to be integrated and constrained by its European obligations, and to avoid any problems of domination. But, above all, Europe had a clear political will to do so. That is why East Germany integrated under a special procedure.

Thus, the European Union can and knows how to create and implement special programmes for rapid integration when it has political will. The Ukrainian people have won the right to this special procedure with their own blood. And to the political will of the EU. And it, too, can be realised during this year. Of course, how and in what way Ukraine could rapidly adopt the EU acquis should be discussed separately. But it can be done if we want to.

As for the special and abundant financial support that will be needed to rebuild and modernise Ukraine’s economy and infrastructure, I wrote a little earlier: using the idea proposed by Mr Borel, the EU should create a “Free Ukraine Fund”, whose multi-billion euro funds could be borrowed on international markets on behalf of the EU, as has been done for the Next GenerationEU Fund, which is designed to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

If Ukraine becomes an EU member by the end of this year, it could also apply for EU structural funds, which under EU rules would not exceed Ukraine’s 4% of GDP limit. So Ukraine, with a GDP of €155 billion, could qualify for regular support of around €6 billion from EU funds. This would cost each European (450 million inhabitants) around €14 per year.

This is roughly the price of 3 pints of beer in the Old Town of Brussels. Somehow we would manage!

Is it possible for Ukraine to become an EU member within a year? For some, this may seem like a naive dream. But dreams are there to make us strive to make them a reality. As the German example shows, big dreams have the potential to become big new realities.

It is up to all of us to make one more great dream a reality.

EPP Lithuanian office
EPP Lithuanian Office
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