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European Commission recommends granting Ukraine candidate status, reforms must follow

June 17, 2022 4:27 pmby Oleksiy Sorokin
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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks to the media in the EU Commission headquarters on June 17, 2022, in Brussels, Belgium. (Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has issued the commission's ruling, advising EU member states to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status.

"We recommend to give Ukraine the candidate status, on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of important reforms," von der Leyen said during a June 17 press conference. "Ukraine has clearly shown commitment to live up to European values and standards."

A similar approach was taken towards Moldova, with von der Leyen stating that Chisinau "has the potential to live up to the criteria."

Ukraine submitted its EU membership application on Feb. 28, four days after Russia launched a full-scale war against the country.

"We ask the European Union for Ukraine’s immediate accession via a new special procedure," President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Feb. 28.

The decision of the European Commission didn't come as a surprise. The day before, leaders of the EU's three largest economies – Germany, France, and Italy – supported Ukraine's bid during a visit to Kyiv.

"Ukraine has already implemented roughly 70% of the EU acquis – that is the rules, the standards and the norms," said the European Commission president, adding that the country has a robust democracy, strong civil society, and the country is on the path to becoming a functioning market economy.

Now, it's up to the 27 member states to officially support Ukraine's bid, a decision which is set to be voted on next week.

Zelensky welcomed the European Commission’s recommendation that Ukraine be granted official candidate status.

“It’s the first step on the EU membership path that will certainly bring our victory closer,” he wrote on Twitter.

Yet, potentially receiving the status is only the beginning, with European Council President von der Leyen acknowledging that Ukraine has a long way to go in terms of reforming the country's judiciary and implementing the rule of law.

Reforming Ukraine

According to von der Leyen, Ukraine has still a long way to go in terms of potential EU accession.

"The focus should now be on speeding up the selection of the judges of the Constitutional Court, as well as the members of the High Council of Justice," said von der Leyen.

After years of delay, the judicial reform law was passed in July 2021, however, the country is yet to see the law's implementation.

A professional judge association, the Council of Judges, delayed delegating members to the Ethics Council, which is to hire and fire High Council of Justice members. The Ethics Council was formed automatically on Nov. 9, yet first, due to sabotage and later due to war, the Council has yet to carry out the intended reform.

On Dec. 1, the Ethics Council met for the first time and chose Lev Kishakevich, a Ukrainian judge, as its chairman and British judge Anthony Hooper as his deputy.

Von der Leyen also pointed out that Ukraine must appoint the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, a post that remains vacant since August 2020.

Selection panel meetings have been constantly delayed and disrupted since the office's previous head, Nazar Kholodnytsky, resigned ahead of his term coming to an end.

On Dec. 7, the selection panel announced its scores for the written test of two finalists.

Now, European Commission is expecting the selection panel to appoint the winner.

"Of course, we know that not everything can be achieved as long as the war rages in the country. But many of these issues can nevertheless already be addressed," said von der Leyen.

Oleksiy Sorokin
Author: Oleksiy Sorokin

Oleksiy Sorokin is the political editor and chief operating officer of the Kyiv Independent. Following a BA from the University of Toronto, Oleksiy became a political writer at the Kyiv Post. He broke stories on government and judiciary topics and investigated the former president and the current Prosecutor General.

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