Op-Ed: Ukraine belongs to the European Union
Integration into the EU would strengthen Ukraine’s position, as well as Europe’s security as a whole.
Spring 2023 Issue: The China Challenge
On May 8, 2022, in Kyiv, as the parliamentary speakers of Ukraine and Germany, we together remembered all the victims of World War II. We commemorated in a country where a brutal war of aggression has been raging since 24 February. Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II, Ukrainian civilians are once again being killed in barbaric massacres. We not only had hoped, but worked hard for many decades in order to ensure that a war of this kind would never happen again on our continent. Russia’s assault on Ukraine is an attack on the European peace order, too.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was counting on a weak and divided European Union. Yet the Europeans were united and resolute in their reaction and have been unequivocal in their backing for Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, the EU and its member states have shown strong solidarity. They are supporting Ukraine in financial and humanitarian terms, but also with weapons. They have agreed on an unprecedented regime of long-term sanctions against Russia, which has been made increasingly robust.
A few days ago, the two of us met in Berlin at the German Bundestag and held a discussion with MPs, mainly from the Committees on EU Affairs and Foreign Affairs. Across party lines, lawmakers from almost all parliamentary groups expressed their strong conviction that Ukraine should be granted EU candidate status. Ukraine needs the prospect of EU membership—not some kind of consolation prize or alternative.
The EU and its member states should lend their wholehearted support to EU integration for Ukraine. This must also be made clear at the European Council in June. The debate planned in the Bundestag in advance of the meeting can serve to reinforce this stance.
A Project for Peace
The European Union has always been a project for peace. It is the best answer to Russia’s violent expansionism. Integration into the EU would strengthen Ukraine’s position, as well as Europe’s security as a whole. If we Europeans want to deter Putin from further aggression, we must make the red lines clear to him. Any uncertainties about the prospects of Ukraine and other partners, such as the states of the Western Balkans, of joining the EU would merely play into his hands. Granting Ukraine candidate status would send an unequivocal signal to Putin that his strategy has failed.
The Ukrainians know where they see their future. Nine out of 10 Ukrainians support EU accession. Every day, they reassert and reinforce European values. They fight with unswerving courage for a free Ukraine within the European democratic family. There can surely be no stronger expression of commitment to the EU.
Ukraine is part of Europe. This is also being demonstrated by the many EU citizens supporting and even opening up their homes to Ukrainian refugees. The practical assistance they are providing shows that Ukraine and the EU are a community of shared values. Sixty-one percent of Germans support Ukraine joining the EU when it is ready. Indeed, across the EU as a whole, 66 percent of people share this belief.
Stamina and Patience
The path toward EU membership will not be easy. Even before the war, Ukraine was facing major challenges. Preparations for accession negotiations and the negotiations themselves will require a massive process of reforms and a great deal of stamina and patience. At the same time, Ukraine is facing the lengthy task of reconstruction. The EU has already promised comprehensive support for this. Further solidarity and assistance will follow. The processes of reconstruction and reform must go hand in hand and be mutually reinforcing.
In our discussion with the parliamentarians, one thing became clear: the European Union should do everything possible to ensure that the accession process is implemented as rapidly as the EU treaties allow. Naturally the process of convergence with the EU will take time. Yet it must not go on for decades.
There must be no room for doubts about Europe’s resolve. A weak and instable Ukraine where people turn away from Europe due to disappointment and lack of perspectives would be in no one’s interest. The same applies to the states of the Western Balkans, but also to Georgia and the Republic of Moldova.
Of course, admitting Ukraine, the Western Balkan states, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova would change the European Union. Yet this prospect must not deter us. Indeed, it should incite us to finally make progress on the reforms needed within the European Union. The EU was never a static entity. It has continually evolved since its establishment. Enlargement policy was always part of the European project—and one reason for its success! Rounds of enlargement often led to a deepening and increased differentiation of European cooperation. We will continue our discussions on this. The Conference on the Future of Europe has made many important suggestions on how to reform the EU.
Europe and Germany have gained in many ways—and to a considerable extent—from earlier rounds of enlargement. This will be no different with regard to Ukraine. Granting Ukraine candidate status would not be an act of mercy. The accession of Ukraine would benefit both Germany and the European Union.
Bärbel Bas is the President of the German Bundestag,
Ruslan Stefanchuk is the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.