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  • Polonius (pseudonym)

The EU Should Not Rush Membership for Ukraine

Colorful flags waved outside the European Union (EU) headquarters in Brussels on June 23, 2022. Inside, 27 EU leaders, protected by a €54.8 million per year security budget, met to determine the fate of Ukraine. Meanwhile, one thousand miles away, debris littered the streets and explosion echoes filled the air as Russia and Ukraine battled for control of Lysychansk, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk region. 

Later that day, the EU granted Ukraine candidate status, a decision which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described as “unique and historical.” Ten days later, Russia captured Lysychansk and has continued to expand its control over eastern Ukraine. 

The EU should not fast-track the membership and accession process for Ukraine, despite pressure from world leaders. 

There is little debate that granting Ukraine EU membership is the ethically correct decision. Once again, though, the international community is faced with a gap in what they should do and what they can do to help the Ukrainian population. Allowing Ukraine into the EU would send a powerful message to Russia, helping diminish the impunity that has propelled the nation further into Ukraine. Russia may eschew the West but its leaders have not yet shed their European heritage. The international community, however, needs to end its habit of issuing statements rather than substantive aid. EU countries should reward Ukrainian heroism with military aid that supports national agency. 

Zelenskyy applied for EU candidacy February 28, 2022, just eight days after the Russia invasion. The EU has instructed Ukraine to enact judicial reforms, anti-corruption measures, anti-oligarchic laws, and increased protection of minorities as part of the accession process. The Ukrainian people and government have made considerable progress in reaching these regulations. Still, the EU should not accelerate Ukrainian membership because doing so would destabilize the EU in three key respects: 

1) Economics 

2) Security 

3) Legitimacy 

If accepted, Ukraine would be the fifth-largest EU country by population (pre-conflict) and the poorest. Ukraine would require immense financial support, not only for war-related expenses, but also in the agricultural sector. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the largest portions of the EU budget. Ukraine, which has expansive farmlands, would become the biggest beneficiary of CAP funds. In addition, Ukraine is just one of many countries seeking EU membership. All other candidates in the potential round of enlargement, including Turkey and Western Balkans, have lower GDP per capitas than Bulgaria, which is currently the poorest member. Enlargement would require a large-scale redistribution of funds, turning EU net beneficiaries into net contributors. 

As the Russo-Ukrainian conflict continues, its outcome becomes more uncertain. While Ukrainian officials are hopeful for membership in under two years, it is unlikely the war will end in this timeframe. Crimea and Donbas could remain under Russian control indefinitely. The EU did set a precedent for countries with land disputes in 2004, when Cyprus became an EU state while Turkey contested its territory. There is one key difference between the Turk-Cypriot and Russo-Ukrainian disputes. Turkey has been seeking EU membership since 1999, meaning that the nation’s self-interests align with EU cooperation, namely preserving peace and stability in Europe. Russia, unlikely to apply for EU membership in the near future, is not beholden to the same standards of behavior and cooperation as Turkey. 

EU expansion would require extensive internal reform, a process which poses a threat even to the strongest organizations. Other membership candidates, such as Balkan states, bring baggage in the form of ethnic division and post-conflict tension. Hungary and Poland, two Post-Soviet EU member states, have experienced democratic backsliding in recent years and the EU has expended ample time, energy, and resources to keep these two nations in line with its ideals. Rushing EU accession would be a disservice to Ukraine. A compromise to structural norms and integrity, even in wartime, could catapult the EU into disarray and significantly weaken its influence and legitimacy. The internal conflict and disorganization of the EU as it navigates enlargement could open the door just wide enough for the Russian ictator to jam his foot in and assert dominance over Europe. 

Let us not forget why the Ukrainian population is fighting. Rather than proxy war terms, like the soul of Europe or the fate of democracy, Ukraine is fighting for its right to self-determination. Instead of taking Ukraine on as a pet project, the EU should increase its aid package and continue programs such as Solidarity Lanes that demonstrate Ukraine’s tremendous power as an independent nation.


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