The European Union is gearing up to open negotiations with Ukraine on its future accession to the bloc with a formal announcement expected as soon as December.
According to three diplomats with knowledge of the plans, leaders are preparing to give Kyiv the green light to begin formal talks on joining the 27-country bloc before the end of the year.
Ukraine is at the heart of a major new push to expand the EU to as many as 35 countries. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her annual address to Parliament last month that Ukraine’s future was “in the Union.”
EU countries granted Kyiv status as a candidate for EU membership in June, and the Commission is due to issue a “progress report” on how well Ukraine and other aspiring members are meeting the bloc’s conditions for joining in November, according to an EU official who spoke to journalists on Tuesday.
Once the progress report has been adopted, the Commission will make a statement that will make it “very hard for member states not to say let’s open negotiations” for Ukraine, said one EU diplomat who, like others, was granted anonymity to discuss confidential matters. “The political push around that will just be too big for individual member states to resist. The working assumption is indeed that by December, the European Council will decide to open negotiations.”
Any decision to open formal negotiations for Ukraine to join the EU is politically and legally fraught. In order to start talks, Ukraine is legally required to meet seven conditions laid out by the Commission, including judicial reforms and curbing corruption. As of August, only two of the seven conditions had been met, the Ukrainian government said at the time.
While Ukraine may not have met all seven conditions by the time European heads of state and government gather for a summit in mid-December, leaders are set to make a political statement authorizing negotiations even if the legal negotiating framework is not yet finalized. “The aim is to agree politically in December on the start of negotiations,” a second diplomat said, adding that a legal decision on admitting Ukraine could happen by early 2024.
A third diplomat said leaders would “send a positive signal” on Ukraine’s future membership in December.
Asked how far Ukraine has come toward fulfilling the seven criteria, an EU official said that progress was encouraging and only one area, concerning minorities, seemed problematic in the short term.
Sarah Anne Aarup contributed reporting.
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