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Ukraine wants to join the EU. Here's how that would work

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen greets Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels last year. Zelenskyy is appealing for Ukraine to join the EU.
Stephanie Lecocq
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen greets Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels last year. Zelenskyy is appealing for Ukraine to join the EU.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has officially signed an application for Ukraine's membership in the European Union, according to a post from his verified Facebook page.

"[Zelenskyy] has just signed a historical document — Ukraine's application for European Union membership," tweeted Andrii Sybiha, the deputy head of the president's office. Ukraine's prime minister and head of parliament also signed a joint statement, he added.

The move comes hours after Zelenskyy released a video appealing to the EU for membership and calling on Russian forces to go home. He urged the EU to allow Ukraine's immediate entry under what he described as a "new special procedure," on which he did not elaborate.

"Our goal is to be with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be equal," he said, according to a translation from The Guardian. "I am confident that it is fair. I am confident we have deserved it. I am confident that all this is possible."

Ukraine is not currently recognized as an official candidate for EU membership, though it's been part of an association agreement with the EU (in which both parties agreed to align their economies in certain areas and deepen political ties) since 2017, as Politico notes.

Zelenskyy discussed membership with European leaders

Zelenskyy's plea echoes remarks he made over the weekend when he pushed publicly for Ukraine's accession into the EU and discussed the subject with European leaders.

Zelenskyy tweeted on Saturday that he had spoken with European Council President Charles Michel, writing: "It is a crucial moment to close the long-standing discussion once and for all and decide on Ukraine's membership in the #EU."

Michel responded in a tweet of his own: "#Ukraine and its people are family. Further concrete support is on its way."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews on Sunday that Ukraine is "one of us and we want them in" the European Union.

But she suggested its entry wouldn't be immediate, saying the process would involve integrating Ukraine's market into that of the EU and noting that the two cooperate closely in areas such as energy.

Indeed, the EU's own website stresses that "becoming a member of the EU is a complex procedure which does not happen overnight."

The process involves time-consuming negotiations

A country can only apply once it satisfies certain conditions, including having a free-market economy and stable democracy and accepting all EU legislation as well as the euro. Then it submits its application to the European Council, which asks the European Commission to assess the country's ability to meet those criteria.

If the commission's assessment is favorable, the European Council must unanimously agree on a formal framework for negotiations, which then take place between ministers and ambassadors of EU governments and the candidate country.

"Due to the huge volume of EU rules and regulations each candidate country must adopt as national law, the negotiations take time to complete," the EU explains.

Five countries are currently in the process of integrating EU legislation into national law: Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. Two others — Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina — are classified as "potential candidates" because they do not yet meet the criteria to apply for membership.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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