Economic Development of Ukraine

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If Ukraine joined today, it would be the fifth most populous nation in the E.U. and its poorest by a wide margin, shifting the balance of power in the bloc and disrupting its internal market. Many believe key institutions would need to be rethought before Ukraine could join.

from WaPo article


E.U. agrees to open membership talks with Ukraine By Emily Rauhala and Beatriz Ríos Updated December 14, 2023 at 4:00 p.m. EST|Published December 14, 2023 at 8:03 a.m. EST

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels. (Virginia Mayo/AP) Listen 4 min


Comment 744 Add to your saved stories Save BRUSSELS — The European Union on Thursday agreed to open membership talks with Ukraine, an important sign of support at a moment when battlefield progress has stalled and U.S. commitment to continued funding for the war has wavered.

Full E.U. membership for Ukraine is realistically many years away, and E.U. leaders gathered in Brussels were still debating an aid package for Kyiv worth more than $50 billion, money seen as critical for Ukraine to keep fighting.

But it was nonetheless a historic moment for Ukraine, which has pushed for years to join the bloc to bind it closer to its allies in Europe, bolster its economy and give its citizens the right to live, work and travel freely across the continent.

European Union takes on complex membership issue with Ukraine

“History is made by those who don’t get tired of fighting for freedom,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote in a celebratory post on X. European Council President Charles Michel called the decision “a very powerful political signal.”

The E.U. also agreed Thursday to open accession negotiations with Moldova, a neighbor of Ukraine that has similarly sought to strengthen ties with the bloc as it comes under pressure from Russia.

The agreement on Ukraine membership talks came after several hours of negotiation and weeks of resistance from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who maintains friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has regularly stalled E.U. decisions that are unfavorable for Moscow.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with other European leaders in Brussels this week. (Omar Havana/AP) “Hungary’s Orban seems to be emboldened by the political gridlock over further Ukraine funding in Washington and disappointment with Ukraine’s counteroffensive,” Alissa de Carbonnel, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia program at the International Crisis Group, wrote in an email.

On the eve of the summit, the European Commission announced it was unlocking more than $10 billion for Hungary that it had frozen in a novel effort to get member countries to abide by democratic principles. The commission said Wednesday that Hungary had now met conditions related to judicial independence.

Some insist the timing was coincidence. Others saw it as giving in to blackmail. In an interview with Bloomberg News this week, the top political adviser to Orban suggested that Hungary was indeed negotiating and that unblocking more money could move Hungary to change its tune on Ukraine.

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On Thursday, Olga Stefanishyna, Ukrainian deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, called out Orban and his antics. European Council decisions on Ukraine “are a piece of a much bigger puzzle,” she wrote in a post on X. “The stakes are too high to have someone play with it.”

Ultimately, Hungary did not get in the way of the Ukraine membership decision, which required unanimity. But Orban symbolically left the room at E.U. headquarters.

Share this article No subscription required to read Share He wanted to avoid participating in a “completely senseless, irrational and incorrect decision,” he said in a video posted on X. “Hungary does not want to share in this bad decision, and for this reason, Hungary did not participate in the decision today,” he said.

A member of protocol hangs up European Union flags at the summit in Brussels this week. (Virginia Mayo/AP) In recent weeks, Ukrainian officials and diplomats have tried, desperately, to shore up support in both the United States and Europe. A delegation of senior Ukrainian officials visited Washington this week to plead with lawmakers there for more funding. But they left with little to show for the effort, as Senate Republicans once again blocked the proposed aid package.

Nearly two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, while winter looms and supplies are low, financial support is needed to keep Ukraine running — and fighting — in the short-term, officials said. Progress on E.U. accession is also seen as critical, both for morale and for the message it sends to Russia.

Ukrainian official stressed that their country has worked hard to meet criteria for E.U. membership set out by the European Commission. But joining the E.U. typically takes many years. The political and legal systems of prospective members are scrutinized and slowly brought into compliance with E.U. rules.

A resident walks by a building damaged by Russian military strikes in the Ukrainian town of Orikhiv. (Reuters) Several countries, including Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia, have been in membership talks for years. Turkey applied to join in 1987 and officially remains a candidate, in theory, despite the fact that its odds look extraordinarily slim.

The fact that Ukraine is still at war makes its case more complicated. In Brussels, there is broad agreement that welcoming Ukraine into the bloc is the right thing to do, but much division about what that would mean for the E.U.

If Ukraine joined today, it would be the fifth most populous nation in the E.U. and its poorest by a wide margin, shifting the balance of power in the bloc and disrupting its internal market. Many believe key institutions would need to be rethought before Ukraine could join.