Formal accession talks enabling Ukraine to become a member of the European Union must begin immediately, Fine Gael Senator Garret Ahearn has said.
Senator Ahearn made the comments as the European Commission recommended European Union candidate status for Ukraine.
“Denying Ukraine candidate status would have sent a terrible message to Ukrainians and a dangerous message to Putin, who claims it is his destiny to return Ukraine to the Russian sphere of influence”, Senator Ahearn said.
“On 23 June, there will be an EU-Western Balkans leaders’ meeting. On 23-24 June there will be a European Council. The big question at all these meetings will be how to reshape the relationship of the European Union with democracies in Central Europe and in the Balkans, at a time of Russian military aggression and ever more ominous threats coming from Moscow.
“Russia’s attack on Ukraine has pushed Finland and Sweden to seek joining NATO. It also prompted Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to apply for EU accession. Kosovo recently announced that it will apply soon, the last of the Western Balkan states to do so.
“These developments raise the prospect of a European Union with 36 or more member states. Ireland, along with other countries like Poland and the Baltic states, have urged the EU since the beginning of the Russian invasion to welcome the Ukrainian application.”
“This week I invited four Ukraine MPs to address Seanad Eireann. This was the first in-person address in any chamber in the world by a Ukraine MP since the war has begun. While they were in Ireland for the two days, they outlined their fears that some members are worried that the EU is too popular for its own good.
“These countries fear that it would become dysfunctional by enlarging too much. They suggest that Ukraine, like other applicants in recent years, be offered a vague, conditional perspective.
“Even to grant Ukraine candidate status, while adding conditions that make the opening of accession talks a distant prospect, would not be good enough. It would repeat the EU’s approach to North Macedonia, which became a candidate in 2005 and then saw its ambition blocked for the last 17 years.
“There is a way forward in my view that addresses the concerns of all member states. It is to grant candidate status and to open accession talks now, and in addition to offer the following:
“All candidate countries that meet the criteria to join the EU, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, should gain full access to the four freedoms – freedom of movement for goods, people, services and capital – and to the European Single Market.
“Citizens and businesses would then enjoy the same rights as those from EU members or Norway and Iceland enjoy today. This offer should be made to Ukraine and it creates an achievable goal.
“Between 2000 and 2002, it took Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia 34 months to begin and complete their accession negotiations. It took Poland, Slovenia and Cyprus 56, and Romania and Bulgaria 58 months. Ukraine could be a member of the single market, and Ukrainians could enjoy the four freedoms, a few years from now,” Senator Ahearn concluded.