A demonstrator takes part in a protest outside the European Headquarters in support of Ukraine's application for EU candidacy status during an EU-Western Balkans leaders' meeting in Brussels on June 23, 2022. - The leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia will not boycott the European Union summit after all. The leaders of Albania and North Macedonia considered staying away from the summit as Bulgaria continues to block the start of talks over the two countries' accession to the EU. The EU summit on the Western Balkans begins on June 23, 2022. This will be followed by a regular summit, including on granting candidate country status to Ukraine and Moldova. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

When it matters most, the EU is able to act. In a historic decision, the 27 member states have given Ukraine EU candidate status. Countries like Austria and Portugal put their concerns aside. Even Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who, as a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly undermined the unity of the community since the start of the Ukraine war, did not raise any objections.

First of all, the decision to grant coveted status to Ukraine and also to Moldova, which feels threatened by Russia, is a clear political signal. This makes it clear that the EU also perceives Putin’s war of aggression as a threat to its own security and is capable of providing the right geopolitical answer: Ukraine and Moldova belong in Europe and not in Russia’s zone of influence.

However, how the relationship between Brussels and Kyiv will continue in practice after setting this important course is another matter. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama is absolutely right when he said that Ukraine should have no illusions. Whether Ukraine is ever accepted into the community depends on rooting out corruption and the influence of oligarchs there.

It may be that given the new situation since February 24, Ukraine was – rightly so – given a political rebate when it was granted candidate status. In the further course of the accession process, however, such a discount will not be given a second time.

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The second lesson to be drawn from the Brussels summit concerns the long-term implications for the EU given all the countries that want to join the community: Albania, the five other Western Balkan countries, as well as Ukraine and Moldova. At the EU meeting, Chancellor Olaf Scholz rightly advocated that the club soon have to say goodbye to the unanimity principle, including on foreign policy issues. An EU with more than 30 members, in which veto options continue to exist in individual areas such as sanctions policy, is not viable.

You don’t even have to look into the distant future to think about new decision-making rules. Brussels is currently considering whether the six packages of sanctions against Russia that have been decided so far are sufficient. A gas embargo is currently not on the agenda because many member states such as Germany and Austria would not be able to cope with it economically. But even when it comes to closing existing loopholes, for example in the oil embargo, the discussion among the 27 countries is likely to be difficult. Because the same applies here: nothing works without unanimity.