‘Wind of change’ in Europe opens for Ukraine as way to EU

European leaders on Thursday will formally accept Ukraine as a candidate to join the European Union, a bold geopolitical move triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but a reminder that the 27-nation bloc needs to be a major Changes will be needed as it seeks to expand again.

History is moving forward,” EU Chief Executive Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday ahead of a two-day summit that will kickstart the EU’s most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War. .

“I’m not just talking about Putin’s war of aggression,” she said. “I am talking about the wind of change that is once again blowing across our continent. With their applications, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are telling us they want change.”

Although it would take years – and perhaps more than a decade – for Ukraine and Moldova to qualify for membership, the Brussels summit’s decision would be a symbolic move indicating the EU’s intention to delve deeper into the former Soviet Union. gives.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his “special military operation” launched in Ukraine in late February was partly necessitated by Western encroachment, which Russia marks as its true geographic area of ​​influence.

While Ukraine and neighboring Moldova are expected to be welcomed into an EU waiting room on Thursday, Georgia will be given “a European approach” but said it must meet conditions before winning candidate status.

A European Union diplomat said before the summit, “The word historical is a word that has been bandied around, but it can be called historical.” “Even a month ago, Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union may have seemed far-fetched.”

balkan despair

Behind the winning rhetoric, however, there are concerns within the EU about how the bloc can remain coherent and cohesive as it continues to grow.

Leaders know that there is growing public discontent over the escalation of inflation and the energy crisis as Russia tightens gas supplies in response to Western sanctions, and these economic concerns will be hotly debated on the second day of the summit.

Beginning in 1951 as an organization of six countries to jointly regulate their industrial production, the European Union now has 27 members dealing with complex challenges ranging from climate change and the rise of China to today’s war. are facing.

Austerity on expansion has slowed progress toward membership for a group of Balkan countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – whose leaders will meet their EU counterparts in Brussels on Thursday morning.

The lack of progress on the milestones for club entry has created such a sense of disillusionment that the leaders of Albania and Serbia briefly considered not attending the meeting.

They eventually agreed to travel, but Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama tweeted: “We will attend the meeting of the EU Council. Not much to hear.”

A draft of the summit, seen by Reuters, showed that EU leaders would again “make a full and clear commitment to the Western Balkans’ vision of EU membership.”

But Ukraine’s fast track to formal candidate status only serves to heighten the feeling of being sidelined, which puts the EU at risk that Russia and China increase their influence in the region.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday that the European Union should “improve its internal processes” to prepare for the admission of new members, which require consensus on key issues with a qualified majority rather than consensus.

A recent report, based on a year of consultations with EU citizens, called on the EU to remove the principle of unanimity in several areas, including foreign and security policy.

The need for consensus often frustrates the EU’s ambitions because member states can block decisions or reduce them to the lowest common denominator.

The bloc remains widely popular, despite waves of crises that rocked the European Union in recent years, from a wave of migration and Britain’s exit from the bloc to the rise of nationalism and tensions over democracy standards.

Nearly two-thirds of Europeans consider EU membership a “good thing”, the highest result in 15 years, according to a poll released by the EU Parliament on Thursday.