European leaders will formally accept Ukraine and Moldova as a candidate to join the EU on Thursday (June 23), a bold geopolitical move triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but a reminder that the 27-nation bloc will need a major overhaul as it looks to enlarge again.
Although it will take Ukraine and Moldova years – and perhaps more than a decade – to qualify for membership, the Brussels summit decision will be a symbolic step that signals the EU’s intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday, welcoming the bloc’s expected green light.
While Ukraine and neighboring Moldova are expected to be welcomed into the EU’s waiting room on Thursday, Georgia will be given “a European perspective” but told it must fulfill conditions before winning candidate status.
Behind the triumphant rhetoric, however, there is concern within the EU about how the bloc can remain coherent and united as it continues to enlarge.
Reticence over enlargement has slowed progress towards membership for a group of Balkans countries – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia – whose leaders will meet their EU counterparts in Brussels on Thursday morning.
According to a survey by the EU’s parliament, nearly two-thirds of Europeans consider membership of the EU a “good thing,” the highest result in 15 years. Still, leaders know that public discontent is mounting over a spike in inflation and an 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.