Ukraine applies for EU membership but accession may take 3 years

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Ukraine formally applied for European Union (EU) membership on Monday, but the process will likely take years despite the support of member countries after Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine could secure candidate status this year, but talks on adjusting its laws to match EU regulations will take much longer.

It took Poland, similar to Ukraine in population and communist history, 10 years from applying for membership in 1994 to actually join in 2004, and that was in a time of peace and stable democratic institutions.

To join the EU, a country has to be approved unanimously by all 27 member states and have a political system compatible with the bloc.

Below are the conditions Ukraine will have to meet and the steps it will have to take to become a member of the 27-nation bloc.

  • Any applicant country has to respect human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law, human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, a pluralistic society and support non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men.
  • It has to have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, a functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU. It has to have the ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including the aims of political, economic and monetary union.


  • Ukraine has submitted its formal application to the council of EU governments and now the Commission will issue an opinion. This, on average, takes 15-18 months, but senior EU officials say it can be accelerated if there is the political will.
  • If the opinion is favorable, Ukraine will get the status of candidate country, if all EU governments vote unanimously in favor.
  • As a candidate country, Ukraine will start negotiations on aligning its laws with the legal framework of the European Union. EU laws are divided into policy areas – so-called chapters – of which there are now 35. A chapter is closed when the candidate country shows that it has already implemented EU laws of a given chapter, or that it will do so by the date of accession.
  • There can be transitional arrangements on whether and how some rules can be introduced gradually to give the accession country time to adapt. This is mainly discussed during the final stages of the negotiations.
  • When all chapters are closed, the EU and Ukraine would prepare an accession treaty, which must be approved by all EU governments and get the consent of the European Parliament. The treaty is then signed by each EU country and by the accession country and ratified.

Meanwhile, even so-called fast-tracked nations like Finland took three years. The last nation to join was Croatia in 2013, after it applied a decade earlier.

Albania, Bosnia and Serbia all have applications ahead of Ukraine. Ukraine amended its constitution in 2019 to commit the nation to EU membership, which Ukraine’s previous president had hoped to apply for by 2023. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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