Want to join the EU club? Well, wait in the queue

© Lena Tomalik

A few days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen claimed ‘Ukraine is one of us, and we want them in the European Union’ during an interview with Euronews on Sunday, 27 February.

Soon after that, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an application to join the EU, asking the latter to allow Ukraine to join the bloc through a special fast-track procedure. Zelensky also reiterated his willingness to join the EU during his speech to the The EU’s directly elected legislative body comprised of 705 members. It is involved in policymaking but it does not have the power to propose new legislation. European Parliament’s plenary this Tuesday, 1 March, receiving a standing ovation. 

However, as the The High Representative is the chief co-ordinator and representative of the EU foreign affairs policy. The position is currently held by Josep Borrell. High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Joseph Borrell reminded, EU accession cannot be a solution to the Ukrainian-Russian conflict now since it would take a long time. So, let’s try to understand how EU accession works and why it cannot be a swift solution to the current Ukrainian-Russian conflict.

Joining the EU: the Copenhagen criteria 

When a country wants to join the EU, it needs to satisfy specific conditions and criteria and go through several negotiation processes. This is why it usually takes years. But what exactly are those criteria, and who decides who can join? 

Let’s make it fun and imagine that EU accession is equal to a big party. If you want to join the EU party, you need to dress appropriately. The dress code of the EU party is known in European jargon as the Copenhagen criteria. These criteria were defined during the European An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council held in Copenhagen in 1993. If you don’t put on the right clothes, I am sorry ma’am, but you can’t get in and have a party alone.

So, what should you show through your outfit?

Well, first of all, you should be able to show that you are a proper democracy, meaning that you have solid institutions able to guarantee the rule of law, human rights and respect for minorities. Then, you should also be able to show that your market economy is functioning and strong enough to compete with other EU member state countries. Last but not least, you should show that as a country you have the ability to implement EU rules and regulations when it comes to the political, economic and monetary union. 

Bodyguards & Negotiations

So if you think you have all the proper clothes, let’s go to the club entrance and ask the bodyguards to get into the party (formally, this would be when you apply to join the EU). Once there, you need to go through some negotiations and be blessed by EU institutions and EU The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. member states, the bodyguards of our story. And do not forget that you also need the blessing of another important actor, EU citizens, usually through a referendum – but well, maybe it is a bit easier to get the blessing of EU citizens. 

When you apply to get into the EU party, you submit your membership application to the An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council, which then asks the The EU’s politically independent executive arm. It is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council. European Commission to assess if you meet the dress code (the Copenaghen criteria). If the Commission thinks you have a nice democratic dress that shows your market and implementing ability, the An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council should open a negotiating mandate by unanimous decision. Unanimous decision means that all EU The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. member states should be willing to start negotiations. Therefore, if a member state is reluctant to let you in, negotiations will not start and you still remain just a ‘potential candidate country’.

Only once The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. member states have agreed to start negotiations, you become a ‘candidate country’. However, this does not mean that you are in. Formal membership negotiations are usually the beginning of long processes: until the moment you do not meet all the EU’s criteria and the EU’s requests (i.e., improving your rule of law, or improving your economic situation), you cannot join/enjoy the EU party.

Candidate and potential countries

There are several countries that are in the queue waiting to join the EU as candidate countries: Albania (applied since 2009), Montenegro (2008), North Macedonia (2004), Serbia (2009) and Turkey (1987). Moreover, there are also some potential countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina (2016) and Kosovo (which however is not recognised as a country by Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain).

Ukraine is on the list, too. The country has always been an important partner for the EU. Ukraine’s and the EU’s relationship are based on an Association Agreement (AA) signed in 2014, which aims at bringing the two sides closer politically and economically. Since 2016, the AA also included the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). The latter is an important step forward to increase the trade between the EU and Ukraine. 

Despite all eyes now being on Ukraine, it is not the only one that has recently announced its desire to join the club. Yesterday, Wednesday 3 March, the Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia tweeted ‘Georgia officially applies for EU membership’.

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