March 26, 2023

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It urged Brussels to rein in Ukraine's "unrealistic" hopes for the European Union

It urged Brussels to rein in Ukraine’s “unrealistic” hopes for the European Union

EU member states have warned Brussels against giving Ukraine unrealistic expectations of quick accession to the bloc, ahead of a Kyiv summit where Volodymyr Zelensky is pushing for progress on accession and reconstruction.

Zelensky is due to host his EU counterparts Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel this week, where he is expected to push for the country’s membership in the European Union, and the use of frozen Russian assets for financing. Ukraine Reconstruction and a legal mechanism to prosecute the Russians for war crimes.

senior diplomats from European Union Capitals worry that Ukraine’s futile prospects – including accession to the European Union by 2026 – have been encouraged rather than tempered by senior officials in Brussels.

No political leader wants to be on the wrong side of history. . . “Nobody wants to be blamed for not doing enough,” said a senior EU diplomat. “So they tell them all of this is possible.”

In response to Russia’s invasion last February, the European Union scrambled to support Ukraine with military, humanitarian and financial packages, including sanctions against Russia that have hurt the bloc’s own economies. The European Union has also taken an unprecedented step in making Ukraine Official Membership Candidatealthough it does not meet the standard requirements.

But while some central and eastern European member states have defended Ukraine’s claims, other northern and western capitals worry about how its huge, impoverished population and vast agricultural sector will integrate with the EU.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been notably cautious about the speed of Ukraine’s accession, warning in May, before the country became an official candidate, that the process could take “several decades”.

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The EU leadership has struck an optimistic tone. “The accession process is on the right track,” said European Commission President von der Leyen during a visit to Kyiv in September. “It’s impressive to see the speed, determination and precision with which you advance,” she added.

Volodymyr Zelensky, left, and European Council President Charles Michel, second from left © Ruslan Kaniuka / Reuters

European Council President Michel said this month that no effort should be spared to “turn this promise into reality as quickly as possible”. He told the Verkhovna Rada: “Ukraine is the European Union, and the European Union is Ukraine.”

This speech created expectations in Kyiv that he deserved special privileges and Quick entry to the block. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said he envisages a two-year timetable.

A second EU diplomat said, “There will be no fast-track to EU membership for Ukraine.” “There is a risk that the rhetoric is at odds with reality.”

Several officials in member states told the Financial Times that the committee should make clear to Ukraine that this exists We have huge obstacles ahead to begin formal accession negotiations, which themselves could take a decade or more.

That gap [between promises and reality] It has been growing for some time. A third EU diplomat said: “They seem to think they can only become members tomorrow. This is clearly not the case.”

Von der Leyen and other commissioners will meet with Ukrainian government officials as part of the trip, with the commission chair and Michel, who represents the 27 member states, scheduled for a summit with Zelensky on Friday.

“We’ve all noted the reform momentum going on in Ukraine,” a senior EU official said before the meetings, pointing to examples of work on the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts. The discussions in Kyiv will highlight the need for further reforms, while also touching on economic cooperation and reducing trade barriers with the EU.

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Michel and von der Leyen have also been prominent in advocating for member states to explore ways to use the proceeds of the Russian Central Bank’s frozen assets in European banks in the reconstruction of Ukraine.

“Von der Leyen and Michel may outdo each other on who can show themselves to be more pro-Ukrainian,” said one EU diplomat.

The cost of reconstruction and recovery was estimated at around €350 billion by Ukraine, Brussels and the World Bank last September, and the cost has only escalated since then as weekly Russian missile and drone attacks destroy critical infrastructure.

But these calls for the publication of the assets were made despite the great questions within the committee itself about the feasibility of this path.

Didier Reynders, the European Union’s justice commissioner, told the Financial Times this week that the idea of ​​using Russian government assets was a “very complex issue”. “I would say not only from a legal point of view but also for the proper functioning of the monetary system,” he said.

The European Union is also divided over the form of a possible court to investigate and seek to try Russians for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.