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EU candidate status, granted unanimously by the European Union leaders on June 23, is not a gift to the Ukrainians from the generous Europeans. It is a well-deserved reward that Ukrainian society received for years of hard work. It is the consequence of opening the land market and state enterprise privatization, changes to the electoral law and the legislation on the judicial branch, decentralization, and many other reforms. Russia is desperate to denigrate this strategic victory of Ukraine and discredit it. But no matter how much Putin wants it, he will not be able to stop Ukraine’s European integration. Ukraine has reached a new level of relations with the EU and will feel all the advantages of its candidacy in the near future. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Catalyzing the reforms every Ukrainian will benefit from
The first advantage of Ukraine’s candidate status is the European Commission’s help with reforms. European experts will act as consultants in complicated matters and share with us the knowledge they gained when they trod this path. Reforms will be inevitable for Ukrainian society because they are one of the European Union’s requirements for candidacy and accession to membership.
The government has a clearly defined list of steps to be taken in order to meet the candidacy criteria. Among other things, Ukraine must strengthen anti-corruption efforts and anti-money laundering legislation, implement anti-oligarchy law and complete judicial reform, etc. Because much of this work is already in progress, Ukraine will not have trouble seeing it through.
More financial opportunities for growth
European support of reforms in Ukraine goes beyond consulting. The EU countries will also implement the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) to help us financially. What this means is a seven-year EUR 14.1 billion fund for candidate countries. It includes grants, investment, and technical assistance. For example, in 2014–2020, EUR 3.5 billion was allocated under IPA to Turkey, and EUR 1.5 billion, to Serbia.
Pre-accession assistance primarily focuses on rural development and sustainable agriculture, as well as adjustment of the agricultural policy to match that of the European Union. The seven-year budget of this program is over EUR 900 million. Considering agriculture’s large share in Ukraine’s economy (approximately 10% in GDP), it is also a great opportunity to improve the state of the sector.
Moreover, it is not only the IPA that can be the source of financial aid for Ukraine. As other countries’ experience shows, the EU is ready to develop individual programs of economic support, and our country is not an exception.
In particular, Europe continues to provide such support to the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro) for the creation of a common regional market and the implementation of other projects, for example, “green” and digital transformation of economies. For this purpose, these six countries can receive up to EUR 9 billion in grant funding and another EUR 20 billion in guaranteed loans over seven years.
Access to resources for environmental initiatives
After becoming a candidate country, Ukraine was invited to join the European Union’s LIFE environmental protection program. It finances environmental and climate action projects.
The total budget of the program for 2021-2027 is about EUR 5.5 billion. Now Ukraine will be able to get resources and finance various purely Ukrainian projects. For example, to eliminate the long-term consequences of Russian aggression, to collect compensation from the Russian Federation for environmental crimes, or to restore the environment in general.
Boost of foreign investment
Another significant advantage that Ukraine gained on its way to the EU is investment climate improvement. Reforms will make our country understandable and attractive for investors, with European laws in place to protect their investment. Besides, investment in Ukraine will be viewed as part of the consolidation of the European community.
For example, when Poland and the Czech Republic became EU members, they saw a surge in foreign investment. However, new investors took an active interest in them even earlier, when they were still candidate countries. So Ukraine may expect a similar, war-adjusted, scenario. When Ukraine defeats Russia, it will have enormous investment potential: there will be a lot of infrastructure to rebuild, including residential buildings, businesses, bridges, railways, etc.
Deep integration into the EU’s economy
Our strategic goal is full integration into the European Union’s economy.
Ukraine’s candidate status will fast-track its entry to the EU market in a variety of sectors: energy, transport, customs, digital, food, and others. This will speed up the modernization of industrial processes and the overcoming of technological underdevelopment, and, last but not least, the expansion of Ukrainian export to the EU.
At the same time, Ukraine has enough to offer the European Union in exchange. Our country is a global food supplier, for example, of grains and oils. We are one of the leaders of government and commercial service digitalization in Europe. Finally, Ukrainians are highly skilled in many sectors.
Creating new jobs
The government needs people to implement reforms. Every new European project in Ukraine will require a team to work on it. This creates new jobs and duties.
The same goes for foreign investment. Every new investor in Ukraine will create jobs all over the country. The more investments, the more opportunities for Ukrainians. Therefore, they will not be forced to leave the country in search of better jobs and better salaries.
To sum up. Statistically, the countries granted candidate status show an increase in GDP. There is a long way to go. But, as the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said in her address to the Ukrainian parliament, Europe will be with us every step of the way from the dark days of the war to the moment when Ukraine enters the doors of the European Union.
The effect of reforms and the powerful support of the European Union will be felt by every Ukrainian. Ukraine is coming back to its European family, and it’s confident and persevering on its journey. So whenever another Russian propagandist claims that Ukraine will never be in the EU, it’s no more than just another desperate manipulation.