Vulcan Insight

EU leaders respond to the Ukraine crisis at European Council summit

11 March 2022

EU leaders on Friday met in Versailles where they issued a joint statement condemning Russia for “unprovoked and unjustified military aggression”. The leaders further pledged their unwavering support for Ukraine and for refugees fleeing the conflict. However, the leaders stopped short of providing Ukraine with a fast track to EU membership.

While acknowledging the “European aspirations and the European choice of Ukraine”, EU leaders noted that Ukraine’s membership application had been transmitted to the European Commission for “its opinion”. This constitutes merely the first stage of a protracted process towards being declared a candidate country and the beginning of membership talks.

While there appears to be no solid willingness on behalf of EU leaders collectively to fast track Ukrainian membership to the EU, there were nonetheless signals of desire to bring Ukraine closer to the EU politically while the membership process takes place. The statement released by EU leaders notes that pending the membership process, and without delay, “we will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. Ukraine belongs to our European family.”

A number of EU countries, led by the Netherlands, insisted that there was no means to shortcut the protracted accession process, even for Ukraine in the context of Russia’s invasion. Mark Rutte, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister stated that “we all acknowledged the enormously difficult situation Ukraine is in”. However, he added that the Commission’s assessment of Ukraine’s application “will take time – months, maybe years, before you get to anything”. That said, he insisted that the EU was already treating Ukraine’s membership application with unprecedented speed.

While there was a mixed response to Ukraine’s membership prospects, EU leaders pledged an array of other assistance for the country including a proposal to offer €500 million in assistance through the EU’s European Peace Facility, which is being used to provide military aid to Kyiv. The leaders also promised to help rebuild Ukraine in the aftermath of the war. This inevitably is contingent upon the country still existing and not being occupied by Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

Regardless of the aid pledged to Ukraine, the main takeaway from the Versailles summit will undoubtedly be regarding the debate on Ukraine’s membership. The EU treaties were referenced in the joint leaders’ statement and while this can be seen as a victory of sorts since the treaties set out the procedures for joining the Union, the treaties also set out criteria for membership and the need for unanimous consent among all existing EU member states. It is not only Ukraine that was on the agenda in this regard either. The leaders also noted that the Council had requested the Commission to issue an opinion on the membership applications of Moldova and Georgia.