European Commission to endorse membership talks with Ukraine

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The European Commission is set to recommend that member states open EU membership talks with Ukraine, a move seen as critical to Kyiv’s accession gaining support from the bloc’s 27 members, though it has placed caveats on when the talks should formally begin.

Ukraine has made EU membership, alongside joining Nato, its key geopolitical goal following Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country last February, and is carrying out a reform programme to align with Brussels’ standards even as it fights against Moscow’s aggression.

Brussels granted Ukraine candidate status last year and EU member-state leaders will vote on whether to agree to begin membership negotiations at a summit in December, based on the commission’s assessment of Kyiv’s progress in fulfilling seven important reforms.

“The commission considers that Ukraine has sufficiently fulfilled the criteria . . . provided it continues its reform efforts and addresses the remaining requirements under the seven steps,” the report will state, according to an unpublished draft.

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“On this basis, the commission recommends that the council opens accession negotiations with Ukraine,” adding that it advises leaders only agree a start date for formal talks once Ukraine adopts outstanding laws related to political asset declarations and lobbying, anti-oligarch measures and guarantees for national minorities.

A commission spokesman said the report would be released on Wednesday after a meeting of the college of European commissioners.

Russia’s war against Ukraine kick-started EU enlargement discussions, as Brussels pivoted to a policy of seeing expansion as a geopolitical necessity in the face of Russian regional aggression.

Six western Balkan states are also aspirant members, although they are in very different stages of preparation, while Moldova and Georgia have also used the Ukrainian conflict to advance their cases for membership.

The 150-page report is likely to receive a mixed response from officials in Kyiv, some of whom have recently griped at what they see as unfair expectations from Brussels and a lack of recognition over the work done in such a short amount of time.

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“The positive thing is that most of the majority of the member states rely on the report of [the] European Commission,” said Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister in charge of EU and Nato integration, before details of the report were revealed.

She said Brussels needed to be aware of how its conclusions may damage Ukraine’s “morale”, and how EU leaders who may be less supportive of Kyiv’s membership bid could seize on any caveats from the commission to possibly oppose it.

Details of the report, which must be agreed by all 27 commissioners and could change before being published, were first reported by Radio Free Europe.

“They may be disappointed,” said one EU diplomat of Ukraine’s view of the report’s contents. “We must give credit where credit is due.”