EU candidate membership is an exercise in patience

Tomorrow, the European Commission (EC) will issue its opinion to make Ukraine a candidate member of the European Union. Next week, the Heads of Government of the EU Member States will have to vote on that candidacy.

The Netherlands was bothering for a long time, mainly because of the proven corruption in Ukraine, but Minister Wopke Hoekstra sounded milder lately. Hoekstra promises an open mind. โ€œIt is up to the European Commission to come up with a sensible opinion. Then you must have the willingness to look at that as the Netherlands openly,โ€ he said in Nieuwuur.

Offering candidate status in this time of war is a geo-political signal, says Wouter Zweers, expert at the Clingendael Institute on EU enlargement policy. โ€œA message to Russia: we do not accept that, through a military invasion, you are trying to determine the future of an independent country.โ€ He also expects Ukraine with a candidate membership to stand stronger in negotiations when the war comes to the end.


In addition to the Netherlands, more countries that were previously opposed put the door to the waiting room for Ukraine ajar. For example, Germany is now supporting the application. โ€œThe country is part of the European family,โ€ Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during his visit to Kiev this afternoon. In addition, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Johannis President Volodymyr Zelensky personally announced today that they were in favour of candidate membership.

But even if Ukraine is admitted to the waiting room, it will take years of negotiations before the country will be able to truly become a member.

Currently, five countries have been waiting for membership for a long time: Turkey, since 1999, North Macedonia since 2005, Montenegro since 2010, Serbia since 2012 and Albania since 2014. โ€œIf you run a country, that is a political decision. There are no tough legal requirements. In practice, it is anticipated and so there is a certain recognition. Candidate membership is a political and technical analysis that the country is ready to enter the waiting room,โ€ says Zweers.

Costs and benefits

How is it possible that countries have to wait so long? Zweers: โ€œSometimes the EU is too positive for countries that do not reform, or too negative with countries that do reform. And then the will to further reform is undermined, so the process stalls.โ€

According to the expert, the Netherlands is particularly inclined to look at the costs and benefits. โ€œWithin the EU, we often think in that kind of terms, and there is less sense that there is a European project, to which we give enormous political significance. Ultimately, it is a cost-benefit analysis for everyone, but some Eastern European member states are experiencing Russias threat so strongly, which also see it as a moral duty to help Ukraine.โ€

He thinks it is wise for the EU to support the aspirations of the government and the people in Ukraine. โ€œBy openly offering perspective and rewarding when there are reforms. The accession process also offers opportunities for the EU to drive reform.โ€