ua en ru

EU Ambassador Katarína Mathernová: 2030 is a realistic date for Ukraine's accession negotiations conclusion

EU Ambassador Katarína Mathernová: 2030 is a realistic date for Ukraine's accession negotiations conclusion Photo: Katarína Mathernová, Ambassador of the EU to Ukraine (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

In a brief interview with RBC-Ukraine, Katarína Mathernová, Ambassador of the European Union to Ukraine, spoke about how the negotiation process for Ukraine's accession to the EU will start, how Brussels will assess Ukraine's progress, and when the negotiations might successfully conclude.

June 25 became a very important day in the history of Ukraine's European integration. The first intergovernmental conference dedicated to Ukraine's accession to the European Union was held in Luxembourg, marking the official start of the membership negotiations.

From the submission of the official application for accession on February 28, 2022, the fifth day of the full-scale war with Russia, to the start of negotiations, more than two years have passed. There is still a long way to go: now Kyiv and Brussels need to systematically conduct negotiations on 35 chapters, ranging from agriculture and education to monetary policy and human rights, aligning Ukrainian legislation with EU standards. Achieving progress will require not only reforms on Ukraine's part but also agreement from all EU member states. As is well known, there are ongoing issues with at least Hungary in this regard.

However, according to Katarína Mathernová, Head of the EU delegation to Ukraine, it is quite possible to succeed by 2030, that is, in six years. This is when a new major wave of EU enlargement is expected, according to current plans.

Considering that the new EU government structures are currently being formed, in particular the European Commission, when can the accession negotiations actually begin? Because today we have like a formal start. And which chapters may be opened first?

— I would take a little bit of a step back and say that actually yesterday, the 25th of June 2024, was the formal start of negotiations. There was the first intergovernmental conference, that's the technical term, for the 27 member states sitting in a format that deals with EU enlargement. And so the formal negotiations started yesterday.

They followed last week's approval by 27 member states, again in unanimity, of the so-called negotiating framework. The negotiating framework is really a mandate by the member states to the European Commission that frames the position of the EU in the negotiations.

In Luxembourg, there were two first intergovernmental conferences for Ukraine and Moldova to mark the formal beginning of the negotiations. So after that, the negotiations have been launched, they are opened, and the next step that will follow is the so-called bilateral screening.

Again, I know it's a lot of jargon, but this is what we are famous for. And the bilateral screening will be going in detail through the acquis communautaire, the body of EU laws and norms and regulations, and comparing it to Ukrainian legislation to determine where are the gaps, where are the areas that need to be filled. And that's going to take several months, and after that, the first chapters will be launched.

— So are we talking about autumn perhaps, or maybe December, closer to the end of the year?

— It's hard for me to determine the exact time because each step depends on the rapidity and success of the previous step, a lot of the timing will depend on the preparedness and quality of the inputs from the Ukrainian and Moldovan side.

— How will the European Union conduct an overall assessment of Ukraine's progress in implementing reforms and what will be the main KPI, will there be something like a checklist?

— Yes, there is. I mean, you have a number of thematic chapters, for example, environment, financial control, financial markets, there's a number of technical areas.

In addition to that, there are categories that are part of chapters 23 and 24, which are the factors that deal with the rule of law, democratic governance, anti-corruption, etc. Those are areas that don't have particular acquis communautaire attached to them, but they will be assessed against European standards, the governance system will need to work in the country.

— How long may these negotiations last? For example, our leadership used to say a couple of years. Many people talk about the year 2030 as a possible date for ending them.

— I think that a couple of years may be too little. But so far I have seen in Ukraine great determination and great tenacity to move fast. So I actually think that in the case of Ukraine, it can take less time than it took in the case of some other countries previously. I believe that 2030 is a very realistic date.

— Is it correct to say that the process of Ukraine's accession to the European Union is already irreversible or not?

— Based on experiences of the past, there is a reversibility cause for everybody. So if, let's say, a country turned into a dictatorship, then probably – nothing is irreversible in life in that sense, right? But if you are asking whether this is a firm commitment and whether we are on the road with Ukraine to the EU, then I would say a resounding 'yes'. And in fact, this could not have been said before the full-scale invasion.

— How to avoid the problem of permanent vetos from one of the EU member states? There will be scores of different technical steps, like opening and closing the chapters, and so on. So how to deal with this problem?

— One needs to deal with the fact that EU enlargement is subject to unanimity, any single member state has the possibility to postpone, block, etc. individual steps. And I think that the other current candidate countries could tell you stories about it. You know, Ukraine is not the first one, probably not the last one where this will happen.

And the way to deal with it is to patiently persevere. Since, in the case of Ukraine, there are bilateral issues with one of the countries, our best advice is to engage, talk, discuss, look for solutions, how to overcome potential differences. Because yes, the way the enlargement process is set up, it is subject to unanimous agreement at every step of the way.

There is no magic formula for how to solve issues other than discussion, negotiation, outreach, diplomatic work, etc