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February Brief: The Possible EU-Enlargement to Ukraine - Conditions & Obstacles

In this briefing, we look at the question of EU -Enlargement to Ukraine and check if Kyiv fulfills the Copenhagen Criteria.

February Brief: The Possible EU-Enlargement to Ukraine - Conditions & Obstacles

Montag, 12. Februar 2024

The Possible EU-Enlargement to Ukraine - Conditions & Obstacles

As Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022 after almost a decade of frozen conflict, the entire European Security Structure was thrown out of balance. Countries like Germany with its longstanding opposition to more military spending experienced a reversal of that policy, now Germany is investing in a „Sondervermögen“ for its armed forces. Sweden and Finland with their longstanding opposition to NATO-Membership are now about to join the Alliance. Another change has been the potential EU enlargement to Ukraine itself, for which the country applied in 2022. This short brief aims to inform the reader about the Conditions for EU membership and whether or not Ukraine is meeting said conditions.


The Conditions for EU membership are defined by the Copenhagen Criteria. They say that:

  • the country has to be European 

  • respect the democratic values of the European Union

  • stable institutions that guarantee the rule of law, human rights and democracy

  • a functioning market economy

  • the ability to carry out the obligations of the European Union 

Obstacles to Ukraine’s EU-Accession

There is little doubt that Ukraine wants to join the European Union as fast as possible. President Zelensky himself declared: „Our future is in the EU“. Despite the obvious aspirations the country has a few obstacles that remain for quick assessment in the future.

In 2023, it was reported that Ukraine had met two of the necessary conditions for EU- Membership. According to a European Union Report, conditions were met in the area of media law and judicial reform. However, issues in other areas prevent Ukraine from being the perfect candidate. Thomas Graham from the Council on Foreign Relations wrote: „Particularly challenging for Ukraine will be meeting the criterion that calls for “stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.” Despite its current self-image as a brave defender of the West’s freedom against Russia’s imperialist aggression, Ukraine has in fact made little progress in consolidating democratic rule since it gained independence in 1991: Freedom House has consistently rated it as only “partly free”.

Despite this, Ukraine has made progress in the fight against corruption, something the country has struggled with for a long time. Despite Ukraine’s struggle with the Russian Invasion, the country has been quite successful in that area: „Ukraine recorded solid progress last year in its long struggle with corruption, according to the latest edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Wartime Ukraine climbed twelve places in the 2023 edition of the annual survey to rank 104th among 180 featured countries, increasing its anti-corruption score from 33 to 36 out of 100. “Ukraine’s growth by three points is one of the best results over the past year in the world,” noted Transparency International in the report accompanying the new edition of the ranking, which was released on January 30“.

Ukraine’s way to an EU or even NATO membership is likely going to take its time, however, one thing is certain: Europe will support Ukraine. As Ursula von der Leyen has said: “There is a long road ahead but Europe will be at your side every step of the way, for as long as it takes, from these dark days of war until the moment you cross the door that leads into our European Union”.


Jonas Pfeufer

Jonas Pfeufer


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