'Ukraine Belongs to Our European Family' But Needs to Address Corruption First, Says Brussels

“Enlargement is a vital policy for the European Union”, the Commission’s Von der Leyen says as it announces Ukraine is moving a step closer to becoming a member state.

Ukraine has made progress on fighting corruption but has further to go, the European Union says, as it acknowledged the process towards it becoming a member state will “not be a short path”, but nevertheless the country “belongs to our European family”.

The European Union issued updates on all candidate nations on Wednesday, adopting what it calls the 2023 Enlargement Package, saying it would recommend opening accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. The development also appears to infer that Ukraine has ‘skipped the queue’ in some regards, as it moves up to more advanced stages of the joining progress ahead of Balkan nations which have been trying to join for many years.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the announcement as a “strong and historic step” which would, he said, make the European Union stronger.

Europe’s chief of foreign affairs Josep Borrell repeated the now-oft quoted phrase that Ukraine “belongs” to Europe as the decision was announced, saying that “Ukraine belongs to our European family. This is already a fact.” The Spanish politician congratulated Ukraine on the work already done to overcome previous criticism around areas like corruption, the influence of oligarchs, and minority rights, particularly as this progress had been made in wartime.

But referring to the amount of work yet to be done before Ukraine is a fit country to join the Union, Borrell remarked: “It may not be a short path, but Ukraine will not walk alone. We will continue to pursue it jointly. The EU is and will remain at Ukraine’s side. We will work together towards Ukraine’s future membership of the European Union because Ukraine belongs to the European family.” 

The European Commission’s official report on Ukraine’s progress laid these concerns out in greater detail, making clear that more progress was required. The document advised Ukraine to hire more anti-corruption cops and judges, to actually properly implement the laws and initiatives already launched, and to improve the accountability of the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office. 

The Commission wrote: “To ensure the impact and sustainability of anti-corruption efforts, Ukraine should continue building a credible track record of investigations, prosecutions, and final court decisions in high-level corruption cases, including the seizure and confiscation of criminal assets.”

Other areas designated for improvement include the fight against organised crime in Ukraine, which the EU said suffered from “weak” laws and organisations and “widespread corruption” in law enforcement. The Commission noted improvements in the observation of fundamental rights for minorities, but particularly pointed to the rights of ‘national minorities’ — such as Ukraine’s Hungarian-speaking minority — and of people with disabilities as areas which need further work. 

Problems or not, the impetus in Brussels to absorb more of Europe into the European Union is strong if not unstoppable even if, as suggested, the cost of doing so can be considerable. Commenting on the upgrading of the Ukrainian journey to membership, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday: “Enlargement is a vital policy for the European Union. Completing our Union is the call of history, the natural horizon of our Union.

“Completing our Union, also has a strong economic and geopolitical logic. Past enlargements have shown the enormous benefits both for the accession countries and the EU. We all win.”

Those remarks speaking of the “call of history” and a “natural horizon” follow other such remarks by Von der Leyen last year, when she said of Ukraine that: “…they belong to us. They are one of us and we want them in”. 



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