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EU candidate status for Ukraine, Moldova triggers vigorous debate

News analysis by Nawab Khan BRUSSELS, June 22 (KUNA) -- The European Commission's recent formal recommendation of European Union (EU) candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova has triggered a vigorous debate among European analysts and the press on the pros and cons of such a move.
"Indeed, this is a historic day for the people of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. We are confirming that they belong, in due time, in the European Union. The next steps are now in the hands of our Member States," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a news conference where she announced the decision last week.
The EU's executive body said it has found that Ukraine is well advanced in reaching the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
It should be granted candidate status on the understanding that steps are taken in a number of areas, it said.
As regards Moldova, the European Commission concluded that the country has a solid foundation in place to reach the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
It should be granted candidate status on the understanding that steps are taken in a number of areas, it recommended.
The final decision, however, is in the hands of 27 EU heads of state and government who are to discuss the matter at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. All the 27 EU leaders have to agree to launch accession talks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the Commission's move. "It's the 1st step on the EU membership path that'll certainly bring our Victory closer," he tweeted, expecting a "positive result" from the summit.
Analysts point out that the EU membership procedure is a lengthy one that can take many years. Croatia was the last country to join the EU and its application process lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.
"The decision to recommend formal candidate status for Ukraine, in particular, portends wide-ranging and profound changes for the entire EU, which will not be easy," commented the Brussels-based new outlet Politico.
"This is partly because Ukraine's relatively big population, more than 40 million before the full-scale Russian invasion in February, stands to fundamentally shift the balance of power in EU decision-making," it said.
According to Ukrainian parliamentarian Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, European leaders simply cannot say no to EU candidacy for Ukraine.
In an op-ed published by the Brussels-based publication The Parliament magazine, she writes, "This is not only about accepting a European future for Ukraine, but also recognizing the sacrifice of thousands of Ukrainians who died defending their independence and their right to choose." Georgia has also applied for EU membership, but it was given "membership perspective" and will be granted candidate status once a number of priorities have been addressed.
Nepszava, a Hungarian newspaper, warned that even if Ukraine and Moldova are granted EU candidate status core issues must be taken into account.
"Regardless of the current extraordinary procedure, the new candidates must also fulfil all admission criteria. This includes the obligatory clarification of border disputes, since large areas of both Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova are occupied by Russian troops," it said.
It cited the examples of Hungary and Poland, arguing that "there is also the danger that enlargement could further erode fundamental European principles such as the rule of law and democracy." "Since the new candidates are states that have no democratic tradition, the EU must proceed with caution to ensure it doesn't disintegrate," it wrote.
For its part, German newspaper Hndelsblatt opined that it is quite possible that Ukraine will be able to meet the requirements for becoming a new EU member within a short time.
It urged Ukrainians to prevent corruption and strengthen the rule of law.
"Something like this can take many years, and there can be setbacks. But it can also be done quickly if the people are determined and motivated. The EU should set aside its doubts and grant Ukraine candidate status rather than slowing it down," it said.
Danish newspaper Berlingske expressed reservations about Ukraine joining the EU.
"The war will prevent normal development and reforms for many years. There are countries like Denmark that fear that the war will give Ukraine an undeservedly quick EU accession. Some fear that reason will give way to emotionalism, and that in six months Ukraine will be put on the fast track based on sympathy, with all the consequences this would entail," it said.
Belgian paper De Standaard saw far more arguments in favor of Ukraine being given EU candidate status.
"Slamming Europe's door in their faces would almost be an act of heartless ingratitude which the Ukrainians would never forgive us for. Europe can really only take this historic decision with a generous heart and welcome Ukraine into the family," it noted.
The British weekly Economist clarified that the issue right now is candidate status, not EU membership.
"The fainthearted will object, saying that Ukraine is too poor, too corrupt and now too war-torn to join the cozy club. That is true, but it misses the point. No one imagines that Ukraine will be ready to become a member for many years yet," it said.
"If Ukraine does not make sufficient progress, it should not be admitted. The progression from candidate to member is by no means inexorable: Turkey has been in the queue since 1987," it pointed out.
Belgian think-tank Bruegel in an article said the economic and political situations in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine mean it is likely to require many years before these countries even start accession negotiations, let alone complete them successfully.
It said that some EU countries are reluctant to enlarge the EU before making treaty changes to remove the unanimity rule in some areas. (end) nk.mt