European leaders simply can’t say no to EU candidacy for Ukraine

Saying no to EU candidacy for Ukraine means tearing up the core values underpinning the establishment of the Union, argues Ukrainian parliamentarian Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze
Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze at a meeting with the US Senate Ukraine Caucus along with members of the Ukrainian and Polish Parliaments. Photo: Alamy

By Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze is a member of the Verkhovna Rada and is chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Integration of Ukraine to the EU.

21 Jun 2022

Ukraine obtaining EU candidate status is one of the core issues of European policy today. This is not only about accepting a European future for Ukraine, but also recognising the sacrifice of thousands of Ukrainians who died defending their independence and their right to choose. It is a fundamental issue of western values, as well as the ability and political will of policy makers to protect these values.  

Three factors were the basic principles for establishing the European Union: (1) preventing war, given that most of the military actions of the Second World War had taken place in Europe; (2) economic cooperation and common prosperity; (3) common values and human dignity, as later laid down in the first and second paragraphs of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

The Ukrainian Revolution in 2014 against the Moscow-supported regime was named the Revolution of Dignity. That is why saying no to EU candidacy today means giving in to Putin’s aggression, which is entirely against the wishes of the majority of EU citizens who support Ukraine’s membership in the EU. We should be very clear that this support refers even to EU membership and not merely candidate status. That is why saying no means tearing up the core values underpinning the establishment of the European Union. 

So why are some European political elites not sure about saying yes? We should emphasise that candidate status does not mean automatic EU membership. For instance, Turkey was granted candidate status in 1999 and North Macedonia in 2005. Unfortunately, since that time they have not moved forward to full EU membership. So why do we hear about the idea of conditional candidacy for Ukraine now? 

The official version from some European capitals is that our country is not ready even for EU candidacy. Sure, we still have certain issues with reforms, the rule of law, corruption, etc. However, aren’t those problems also present even in the home countries of Gerhard Schröder and François Fillon who gained a great deal of wealth from Russian oil companies? In the case of some EU Member States, a fair number of media outlets, think tanks and even political parties are financed by Moscow; don’t these Member States also face the same problem? 

A great advocate of human rights, the American theologian James Freeman Clarke is attributed with saying: “A politician … is a man who thinks of the next election; while the statesman thinks of the next generation.” 

Perhaps, the main reason why some European political elites can’t say yes to the candidate status of Ukraine is because they are thinking not about values but about the gas bills of their electors? 

These questions may be answered by a quote that is sometimes attributed to Sir Winston Churchill: “If a country, choosing between war and shame, chooses shame, it gets both war and shame.” 

The inability to make decisions, the inability to rebound from poor decisions, believing in the possibility of negotiating with a predator – these all can also be reasons for not saying yes. Is it not obvious after the war in Georgia and the Crimea annexation that appeasing Putin does not work? 

Fear of Russia cannot be the main motivation for decision-making in the EU. Fear of Russia only results in growing Russia’s aggression; any fear is interpreted by Moscow as weakness. 

Some EU Member States may have several rational reasons for not supporting EU enlargement. And some of them suggest a simple solution in the form of dividing Europe into an elite club and others. This did not work in the 1960s and will not work now. Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the Western Balkan countries should become EU Member States. If it does not happen, it will mean that Europe is not Europe any more and Putin has won. 

We cannot wait. Rejecting Ukraine’s candidate status would mean rejecting the values of the western world.