Ukraine is preparing for a symbolic start to negotiations on EU membership, together with Moldova

The two countries will have to overcome not only technical and legal hurdles to membership, but also political hurdles. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The European Union will open membership talks with Ukraine on Tuesday, giving the country a political boost amid the war against Russian invasion, although there is still a long and difficult road ahead before the country can join the bloc.

The ceremony in Luxembourg will be more about symbolism than the substance of the negotiations, which will only begin in earnest after the EU vets reams of Ukrainian legislation to assess any reforms needed to meet the bloc’s standards.

But by marking the start of talks with Ukraine, and later in the day with neighboring Moldova, the EU signals that both countries are moving away from Russian influence towards greater integration with the West.

The moment will be poignant for many Ukrainians, who trace their current conflict with Moscow to the 2014 Maidan uprising, when protesters toppled a pro-Russian president who reneged on his pledge to develop closer ties with the EU.

Ihor Zhovkva, foreign policy adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, said this would give a big boost to the morale of Ukrainians.

β€œIt is very important,” he told Reuters in an interview in Kiev. “The path to full membership that Ukraine deserves… is irreversible.”

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna will lead the Ukrainian delegation at the event, known in EU jargon as an Accession Conference. It starts around 3:30 PM (1330 GMT).

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib will speak on behalf of the EU, as Belgium holds the bloc’s main rotating presidency.

Tough journey

The journey to EU membership is tough for candidate countries as they need to reform to meet EU standards on a wide range of issues, from fighting corruption to regulating agriculture to harmonizing customs rules .

But the war adds a huge layer of challenges for both Kiev and Brussels, raising questions that neither wants to answer at the moment – ​​such as whether Ukraine could join if part of its territory were still occupied by Russian troops.

The prospect of Moldovan membership raises similar questions, albeit on a smaller scale, as Russian soldiers are stationed in the breakaway region of Transdniestria.

The two countries will have to overcome not only technical and legal hurdles to membership, but also political hurdles.

Candidate countries need the approval of all 27 EU members to open and close every step of membership negotiations, giving EU governments numerous opportunities to delay the process.

Hungary – which has closer ties with Russia than other EU member states and does not supply arms to Kiev – has delayed the start of the talks, citing concerns about the rights and treatment of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, diplomats said.

Expanding the EU to include Ukraine and Moldova – and other hopeful countries such as Western Balkan countries and Georgia – would require a radical overhaul of EU rules on everything from agricultural and economic development subsidies to decision-making, analysts say.

(Only the headline and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

First print: June 25, 2024 | 8:17 am IST