German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday she was confident that the European Union next month would advance Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc at a summit seen as a key milestone in Kyiv’s efforts to integrate with the West.
Presenting EU enlargement as a geo-strategic necessity, Baerbock told a conference in Berlin that the 27-nation bloc also needed to plough ahead with “tedious” internal reforms to be able to function with 30-plus members.
“We want to see Ukraine a member of our European Union,” said Baerbock, who is from the Greens party that forms part of Germany’s ruling coalition. “The European Union has to be enlarged. That is the geo-political consequence of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”
EU leaders will decide at a Dec. 14-15 summit whether to grant Ukraine the formal start of membership talks, which for Kyiv is a top priority on a par with Western military and financial support.
“I am convinced that the European Council in December is going to send out that signal,” said Baerbock.
“However, an enlarged EU will only be stronger if we do what we have been so hesitant to do for so long – review and rethink the way in which our union functions.”
Membership negotiations – in which a candidate country must meet extensive legal, economic and political conditions – take many years. Ukraine’s case is further complicated by the war, which Russia launched on Feb. 24, 2022.
Ukraine would become the EU’s fifth most populous member state, as well as its poorest, meaning that – under current rules – it would absorb much of the bloc’s generous agriculture and development aid at the expense of current members.
Baerbock said a step-by-step enlargement must run in parallel with reforms to prevent the further growth of central EU institutions and reduce the use of national vetos.