European Union leaders on Friday wrestled with how to adjust if Ukraine were to become a member at a summit in Spain that was clouded by questions about the West’s long-standing support for Kyiv’s war effort against Russia.
Ukraine was given a path to membership last year, starting a year-long process of reforms to bring Ukraine into line with EU norms. President Volodymyr Zelensky and the leaders of Poland and the Baltic states have urged it to be speeded up, but group leaders have said there is no fast track to membership.
Next month, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, is expected to publish an assessment of Kyiv’s efforts to comply with EU rules, and national leaders will decide in December whether to open membership talks with Ukraine.
“Both the EU and future member states must be prepared to face the prospect of a further enlarged Union,” EU leaders said in a statement after the meeting. “Willing members should step up their reform efforts, particularly in the area of the rule of law,” the statement said. “The Union must lay the necessary internal foundations and reforms.”
If Ukraine becomes a member, it will significantly change the structure of the bloc’s budget. Some Eastern European countries may have to pay more than they receive in subsidies.
“There are many questions, doubts,” Hungary’s Viktor Orbán said of Ukraine’s prospect of joining the alliance. “First, we need to know how much money we’re talking about.”
Informal talks this week in Granada, Spain, where leaders discussed migration and economic autonomy, are preparation for formal meetings of the bloc’s leaders later this year.
Even as talks on Ukraine’s membership continue, EU countries are counting the economic and political costs of continuing to send military aid to the country, especially as political turmoil in Congress threatens US aid.
EU leaders are expected to discuss a 50 billion euro aid package for Ukraine at a summit in Brussels later this month, but they have already indicated that if Congress fails to vote, they will not be able to fill the gap in support left by the US. More help.
Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year forced the 27-nation bloc to consider expanding its ranks further, but joining is a long and difficult process that typically takes a decade, even for countries not at war.
“There is no longer any procrastination in Russia’s war against Ukraine,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Friday, referring to the expansion of the bloc. “That doesn’t mean it will be easy, because there are different opinions and different sensitivities across the EU.”