European Union leaders on Friday wrestled with how the bloc would have to adjust if it added Ukraine as a member, at a summit meeting in Spain that was shadowed by questions about the West’s long-term support for Kyiv’s war effort against Russia.
Ukraine was given a path to membership last year, beginning a yearslong process of reforms to bring Ukraine in line with E.U. regulations. President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as leaders of Poland and Baltic States, have pushed for speeding it up, but the bloc’s 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 align with E.U. rules, and national leaders will decide in December whether to open membership negotiations with Ukraine.
“Looking ahead to the prospect of a further enlarged Union, both the E.U. and future Member States need to be ready,” the heads of E.U. governments said in a statement after the meeting. “Aspiring members need to step up their reform efforts, notably in the area of rule of law,” the statement said. “The Union needs to lay the necessary internal groundwork and reforms.”
If Ukraine becomes a member, it would significantly transform the structure of the bloc’s budget. Some Eastern European nations would be required to pay more than they receive in subsidies.
“There are many questions, doubts,” Viktor Orban of Hungary said about the prospect of Ukraine joining the bloc. “First, we need to know how much money we are speaking about.”
The informal talks this week in Granada, Spain, where the leaders also discussed migration and economic autonomy, were a preparation for formal meetings of the bloc’s leaders later this year.
Even as talks over Ukraine’s membership continued, E.U. nations were reckoning with the economic and political costs of continuing to send military aid to the country, especially as political turmoil in Congress threatened American aid.
E.U. leaders are expected to discuss a 50 billion euro aid package for Ukraine at a summit later this month in Brussels, but they already indicated that they would not be able to fill the gap in support left by the United States should Congress fail to vote for more aid.
Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has forced the 27-nation bloc to consider further expanding its ranks, but joining is a long and painstaking process that usually takes around a decade, even for nations not at war.
“With this war by Russia against Ukraine, it is not possible anymore to procrastinate,” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said on Friday, referring to enlarging the bloc. “It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy, because across the European Union there are different opinions and different sensitivities.”