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Ukraine and Moldova enter formal membership talks with the European Union

Ukraine and Moldova enter formal membership talks with the European Union

Baku, June 25, AZERTAC

Formal talks on Ukraine and Moldova’s accession to the European Union kick off on Tuesday, in a development hailed historic and set to bolster hopes both countries will one day become EU members despite the war raging in Ukraine, Euronews reported.

The opening of talks will take place in two consecutive Intergovernmental Conferences on Tuesday afternoon in Luxembourg, with the two hopeful countries, the European Commission and the rotating presidency of the Council, currently held by Belgium, all represented.

The Ukrainian delegation will be headed by the country’s deputy prime minister for European integration, Olga Stefanishyna, while Prime Minister Dorin Recean will lead the Moldovan delegation.

Speaking upon her arrival, Stefanishyna described the meeting as a "historic moment" for Ukraine and a decision behind which "all the nation stands as one."

"Ukraine, despite the war and the extremely difficult situation, has decided to continue with intensive reforms while they are underneath the bombs and their lives are at risk," the Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib said.

Tuesday’s meeting is mostly symbolic, but it does mean that the European Commission can make headway in the process of screening both Kyiv and Chisinau’s national laws to determine alignment with the EU’s own in areas including energy, financial services and food safety.

The negotiating frameworks, designed to guide the accession talks and approved by EU member states last week, will also be presented to both countries.

An EU diplomat said that while the initial screening process can typically take one to two years, it could be quicker this time given that the 2014 free trade agreements with both Ukraine and Moldova mean both countries are already aligned with several EU standards and regulations.

The start of negotiations is one of many milestones in a typically years-long process, where countries are required to make judicial, economic and constitutional reforms before they can be considered ready to join the EU. It has taken around a decade on average for previous candidates to join the bloc.

Seven more countries are currently waiting in the wings to become EU members, five of which - the Western Balkan states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia - are already in formal negotiations.

“We stand at the threshold of a significant and transformative moment for these two countries (Ukraine and Moldova), and for our Union,” the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a video message on Tuesday. She added that Ukraine and Moldova's journeys to EU membership will be “rigorous and demanding,”

The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, said: “Our shared future starts now.”

Charles Michel, who presides the European Council, described Tuesday's talks as "a proud moment for both nations and a strategic step for the EU.

"Ukraine’s efforts are even more admirable considering Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has brought about unprecedented hardship and adversity," Michel added. "The people of Ukraine have shown extraordinary courage and solidarity in defending their sovereignty and their European future."

Michel has previously called for the EU itself to speed up its preparations for enlargement, suggesting the bloc should be ready to accept new members by 2030.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister Stefanishyna claimed on Tuesday Kyiv will be able to "complete everything by 2030."

"Rest assured that Ukraine is very capable to deliver in a fast way, so if the European Commission is ready we can do it even faster," she added.

But speaking to Euronews on Tuesday, John O'Brennan, Professor of European Integration at Maynooth University warned the accession process will likely be long and complex.

"If you look at the recent history of the enlargement process, it's very difficult to be enthusiastic. Why? Because for most of the last 15 years, the entire process has been flatlining and simply hasn't been delivering," O'Brennan said. "The simple truth is that there hasn't been the political will in the EU to really get behind enlargement and to ensure that it becomes a much more serious item on the agenda of the European Council."

He pointed to the recent friction between Poland and Ukraine over tariff-free Ukrainian agricultural imports as a sign that even the most pro-Ukrainian of the bloc's member states will object to Kyiv's integration if it comes at a cost.

Ukraine's GDP per capita is three times smaller than that of Bulgaria, the EU's smallest economy, meaning its entry could destabilise the bloc's budgetary structure and mean many EU countries would switch from being net beneficiaries to net contributors.

"Potentially it (Ukraine's accession) means the complete transformation of the EU budget. We are not going to be able to keep the EU budget at 1% of GDP. It's going to have to be doubled or tripled, potentially. And many of the more recent member states that have benefited from EU structural funds (...) are going to see their share of the pie reduced significantly," he added.

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