The EU Accession Process Is Full of Risk—for Everyone Involved

The EU Accession Process Is Full of Risk—for Everyone Involved
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press conference at EU headquarters, Brussels, June 17, 2022 (AP photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert).

In the days before Ukraine’s European Union candidate status was confirmed on June 23, a satirical clip from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s previous career as a comic actor began to circulate on social media. In a scene from the television series “Servant of the People”—in which Zelenskyy played a schoolteacher who accidentally becomes Ukrainian president, not long before Zelenskyy himself became president in real life—he takes a call from then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After initially congratulating Zelenskyy’s character for Ukraine’s accession to the EU, Merkel—who remains an off-screen voice heard only through the phone—suddenly apologizes, realizing she’s made an error: She had actually meant to call the president of Montenegro instead.

Zelenskyy’s portrayal of surprise, joy, shock and disappointment in the 20 seconds the call lasts is a masterpiece of comic timing. But it also encapsulates how frustrating accession is for states struggling to become members of the EU. The achingly slow process begins with a succession of steps those states must take to harmonize their regulatory codes with the EU’s before being declared an official candidate for membership. For societies still struggling with legacies of dictatorship and civil conflict, implementing the reforms necessary to meet the requirements of the EU’s Copenhagen criteria, such as the capacity to implement European law, a stable market economy and a democratic political system, amounts to a complex struggle.

In addition, the extent to which even the smallest member state can influence EU decision-making means that the accession process is fraught with uncertainty. That the EU as an entity is itself becoming more state-like generates a growing number of challenges for states seeking accession, too. Candidate states now need to integrate into a collective border system, currency and environmental policy, as well as into the EU’s increased harmonization in core aspects of governance, such as taxation and defense. All of this blends their national sovereignty with the EU’s supranational sovereignty to a much greater extent than their predecessors faced before the Maastricht Treaty ushered in the EU in its current form in 1992.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.