European prospects of Ukraine – interview with Head of the Government Office for EU Integration
On May 9, the president of Ukraine announced the completion of the second part of the application form for Ukraine’s EU candidate status. So where are we at in this process that is so vital for Ukraine? Kyiv Post’s Aleksandra Klitina interviewed Natalya Forsyuk, Director of the Government Office for Coordination on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, and a former Deputy Minister of Infrastructure to find out more.
Klitina: A lot of hard work under considerable pressure went into this document. How did the process, go? Smoothly, or were there obstacles or resistance? How many questions were there in fact in the document that Ukraine had to complete?
Forsyuk: The process was divided into two parts. First, during the visit by
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, the first part of the questionnaire was received, which the president of Ukraine promised to complete in the space of a week. We were under very great time pressure to complete this first part. It related to political and economic criteria only.
There were 400 questions, but you obviously cannot answer simply “yes” or “no”. Answers should be detailed and describe relevant legal acts, data, refer to the Copenhagen criteria (rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the European Union), etc.
That was a challenging exercise. The leading players were the Ministry of Justice and to a lesser extent the Ministry of Economy. They did an excellent job, but in total, for both parts, more than 60 state institutions, ministries, and other organizations were involved in this process.
The second part was about the approximation of our legislation to European standards, which contained 1,900 questions. The questionnaire was very extensive, containing 33 chapters and comparable to the Association Agreement.
The questionnaire required very detailed answers about Ukraine’s level of approximation to EU legislation, and embraced plans to reach EU standards if some regulations have not been adopted yet. That was a real challenge. I would say that usually, for countries, it takes about a year to complete both of these parts of the EU questionnaire. We did it in the space of three and a half weeks.
Klitina: French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 9 that it would take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU. Could you comment on the procedures that Ukraine has to pass to become an EU candidate and how much time would it potentially take?
Forsyuk: Based on the answers in the EU questionnaire, the European Commission has to prepare an opinion on whether Ukraine is ready to become an EU candidate country. In June, 27 EU countries will vote, and the conclusion has to be unanimous. This is a challenge for Ukraine, knowing that some countries are still hesitating on the most critical decision. In the best-case scenario they will vote in favor of Ukraine becoming a candidate country.
Afterwards, the negotiations are opened – this is a particular procedure of genuine negotiations with the candidate country. The Ukrainian government will start to negotiate a new agreement with the EU. This new agreement is not the Association Agreement as a plan that will determine how Ukraine will meet the EU’s requirements.
It is usually a long procedure, but I don’t think it will take decades. However, for Turkey, for example, it has taken a long time, and the country has not yet become an EU member state, though it has been a candidate country. I think the ambition of Ukraine is to become a candidate country.
Another scenario is that Ukraine becomes a potential EU candidate country and, in this case, we will not negotiate a new agreement, and Ukraine will retain this status until the government fulfills the current Association Agreement. Nevertheless, this will be a political signal that Ukraine is welcome in the EU.
I don’t even want to mention the worst-case scenario because we believe this will not happen.
In theory then, it will take a couple of years. Of course, it will depend on the situation with Russia and how long this war will last.
Klitina: Russian propaganda speculates a great deal on Ukraine’s European future. We hope that your projections are more optimistic.
Forsyuk: Obviously, Russian propaganda and Russian diplomats are working to prevent Ukraine from reaching this next step, but I have faith in the political lever, that our diplomats are doing as much as possible. According to the last opinion polls, European citizens widely support Ukraine becoming a member of the EU. There are also hesitant leaders pushing their poll ratings down.
We hope that the examples shown by Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Great Britain will be followed by other countries. However, important players like France and Germany will play a considerable role here.
Klitina: Could you please describe the changes in the work of the Government Office for Coordination on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration imposed by the war? How has the war impacted European integration processes in Ukraine, and what are the biggest challenges?
Forsyuk: Since the start of the war, the government’s focus has changed to defense. When Ukraine applied to become a member of the EU and now there is strong focus on European Integration. Before the war, our level of implementation of the Association Agreement reached 63%. This level is relatively high, taking into account the fact that it came into force in 2017, and Ukraine managed to implement 63% over the course of five years. In the last two years, the tempo was quite good, and Ukraine implemented 20% of its obligations. This speed slowed down at the beginning of the war because no one was ready to work under such circumstances.
Now the government is back on the European Integration agenda because until we have the new agreement with the EU as a candidate country, the only valid agreement and barometer to measure will be the current Association Agreement adopted by the European Commission and Prime Minister of Ukraine.
The Association Agreement sets out the list of legal acts and secondary legislation that Ukraine should adopt during this year. I think the implementation process will move even faster to show that even under circumstances of war, Ukraine is still working on the European Integration agenda.
Last month, the Government Office for Coordination on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration was busy with the EU questionnaire. I believe that the process will move quickly from now on. Many legal acts are already registered in Parliament. lawmakers will have to vote and will need to find consensus on issues that were difficult to reach compromise on before the war.
The leaders of the EU member states and the governments of these countries will discuss Ukraine’s application to join the European Union in June 2022.
European Council meetings are scheduled for the end of June. According to the EU action schedule, it will take place on June 23-24.