To be a member of the European family – Ukrainians clearly showed this decisive position at the end of 2013, during the Revolution of Dignity, when they overthrew pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. But why do Ukrainians need the European Union? What opportunities does it open up for Ukraine and its citizens?
First of all, it is worth looking at the experience of the EU member states that joined earlier. Let’s take, for example, the neighboring Republic of Poland, which signed an association agreement with the EU in December 1991, applied to join the EU in 1994, and began negotiations for accession to the EU in March 1998. As a result, on May 11, 2004, Poland signed the Treaty on Accession to the EU. The Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, former republics of the USSR) followed a similar path.
In the 30 years since the beginning of the European integration processes in Poland and the Baltic countries and in the 19 years since they became members of the EU, we can see that the level of GDP per capita in these countries is significantly higher than in Ukraine. Although in the early 1990s we were at the same level. That is, one of the consequences of membership in the EU is an increase in the general level of economic well-being of the population. Another important confirmation of the increase in welfare from EU membership is that about 90% of the inhabitants of the mentioned countries support EU membership, thus recognizing the benefits that come from it.
Justice and the rule of law are necessary prerequisites for Ukraine’s membership in the EU. That is why one of the key roles here is played by the implementation of chapters 23 (judicial and fundamental rights) and 24 (justice, freedom, and security) of the EU amendment. ow does the implementation of these norms work in the EU? A simple real-life example: Ukrainian drivers, after crossing the border with the EU, begin to observe traffic rules as much as possible. They understand that violations in the EU have a significant impact on their wallets because they have to pay high fines. Such analogies can be drawn in other areas related to compliance with the rules and confidence that the state will uniformly ensure their implementation by all residents. And if the rights of citizens or businesses are violated, they can count on effective and impartial judicial protection. In addition, the legislation on administrative procedure, which was recently implemented by Ukraine, ensures effective and transparent interaction between the authorities, the public, and business. Ukraine should not just implement Chapters 23 and 24, but show that all changes to the legislation are functioning: the relevant institutions are functioning properly, and the rights of citizens are not being violated. What needs to be done right now? It’s necessary to carry out key reforms quickly and efficiently to ensure the rule of law, first of all in the judicial system.
In general, on the way to Ukraine’s membership in the EU, it is necessary to carry out reforms to implement 35 chapters of the EU amendment, which relate to political, social, administrative, economic, judicial, etc. The implementation of these norms will primarily contribute to improving the quality of life for the population.
At the same time, European integration also means access to significant resources thanks to financial support instruments from the EU as part of the implementation of reforms. Attracting funds from the EU and implementing European integration reforms often act as magnets for foreign investments. For example, the adoption of the framework law on waste management (which complies with EU directives) has drawn the attention of investors to this area. Although the risks of investing in Ukraine are very high in war conditions, the EU and its member states could help here as well, both in the process of restoring or rebuilding the infrastructure and in terms of risk insurance for investors. Thus, significant benefits from the EU can be obtained not only after the acquisition of membership but also on the way to it.
What will Ukrainians get from EU membership?
- movement of goods: favorable conditions for exporting products, and at the same time, higher competition in the domestic market, which benefits the average consumer
- movement of services: the possibility of providing services on the same terms as other citizens in the relevant EU state
- labor movement (the possibility of employment in any EU country). On the one hand, this creates certain risks with the outflow of labor from Ukraine, but on the other hand, it will remove barriers for those citizens of Ukraine who are already working in the EU
- capital movements (easy transfers of funds within the EU, purchase of real estate, investment, etc.).
- Increasing the general level of well-being due to the growth of GDP observed in the countries joining the EU, direct financial support from the EU for the implementation of reforms and infrastructure facilities (roads, sewage treatment plants, educational institutions, sports facilities, etc.), improvement of environmental and social standards, etc.
- Equal protection of citizens’ rights: ensuring that all citizens will have equal access to the protection of their rights and freedoms, as well as the benefits of EU membership, regardless of gender, nationality, culture, disability, profession, or sexual preferences.
- The developed public transport, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure. In the development strategy of European cities, pedestrians are in the first place, and private vehicles (cars) are in the last place.
- Higher standards of food safety and protection of consumer rights.
- Ensuring a more uniform development of the regions, correspondingly improving the standard of living of the population in the respective territories thanks to EU resources.
- The influence on the development of the EU can be quite significant, considering the size of the country’s population.
It is also worth understanding that joining the European Union will not consist only of gains and advantages. Difficulties or inconveniences may also arise:
Yes, at a certain stage, Ukraine may also feel the pan-European problem related to refugees.
European bureaucracy and standards can make life difficult for citizens and businesses. For example, the mandatory technical inspection of vehicles will be returned, and this will cause additional inconvenience, corruption risks, and additional costs for the population. At the same time, as practice has shown, the cancellation of the mandatory technical inspection did not affect the increase in the number of road accidents on the roads of Ukraine.
Some small and medium-sized businesses may not be able to withstand competition with the EU during the opening of markets. And you will have to adapt to life in a market economy with high competition.
As Ukrainians in the EU have convinced themselves, the quality of services and public services is often at a lower level than in Ukraine:
- Yes, it is easier to get to a family doctor here.
- The provision of administrative services is better organized in Ukraine, including electronic services through Diia.
- Delivery of goods to most settlements is possible in one day.
- Opening a bank account in Ukraine can take a few minutes online, while in many EU countries it takes much longer, requiring making an appointment at the bank and collecting a large list of documents.
And there are many more examples listed above. Therefore, during the implementation of EU legislation, it is important that the existing high standards in certain spheres of social life and business do not deteriorate in our country.
It is necessary to clearly realize that the EU is not a panacea for all problems in Ukraine, but at the same time, it is a clear vector of democratic development, which Ukrainians are currently fighting for with blood. We now have a good opportunity to bring our membership closer together thanks to political support from the EU.
Task for yesterday: what needs to be done?
Negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the European Union may begin this year. Therefore, you should not wait, but now you need to use the moment and start actively preparing for reforms to bring our legislation closer to EU standards as quickly as possible.
And the main thing isn’t to expect to preserve current standards within the framework of the reforms. For example, by violating the obligations on judicial reform, the Ukrainian authorities send negative signals to the EU and its member states. It must be clearly understood: without ensuring the rule of law, at any level of political support in the EU the EU, Ukraine’s membership “does not shine”. And in the case of imitation of reforms, Ukraine will simply become one of those countries that have been “stuck” in candidate status for more than 10 years. We hope that the authorities of Ukraine will not allow this, and civil society and international partners will provide adequate motivation to fulfill obligations.
In conclusion, I would like to draw attention to the atmosphere you immerse yourself in when you enter the EU: people who are open, cheerful, and confident in the future. I would like that in the near future, the Ukrainians, who have been fighting in the genocidal war unleashed by Russia for the tenth year, would become full members of the European family and be happy, cheerful, and, most importantly, confident in their future. After all, this is exactly what we want for our children, for our families, and for our Ukraine.
The project is financed within the framework of the MATRA Program with the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ukraine
Head of the Euroscope Project