When the decision was made last week, Volodymyr Zelenskyj did not spare big words. At a “historic moment”, declared the Ukrainian President, the governments of the European Union made one of the “key decisions of the first third of the 21st century” and offered his country the long-awaited accession to the EU.
Council President Charles Michel agreed. “We are sending a message of unity and geopolitical resolve,” he said, “we belong together now.”
That warms the hearts of all those who are concerned about the plight of the Ukrainians and who want a strong EU that defends freedom, democracy and human rights on Ukraine’s side against the Russian aggressor. Or, as the British historian Timothy Garton Ash put it: the decision in favor of Ukraine was the right one “because it deserved it and because it is in the long-term strategic interest of all Europeans”.
But as understandable as that is, the public discourse on it was dishonest. Because the consequences of Ukraine’s accession will fundamentally change the EU – and even more Ukraine. But most citizens don’t even know that, and it’s by no means clear whether they really want it.
The military dimension of the process was hardly mentioned. The war won’t just end and then everything will be the same as before. Even if the Putin regime is eventually content with gaining territory and halts hostilities for the time being, the threat of another attack at a later date remains.
If Ukraine were already a member of the Union, the entire EU would be at war with Russia. After all, a security guarantee is included when you join. “In the event of an armed attack on the territory of a Member State, the other Member States shall owe it all the assistance and assistance in their power,” states the EU treaty.
That is all well and good, but most EU citizens have not heard from their governments about this part of the forthcoming accession. Even the EU Parliament was not worth a debate. Yes, the invitation to negotiations is initially only symbolic.
But it raises expectations that may not be covered by the will of EU citizens. When it comes to voting on accession in national parliaments at a later date, those responsible can have a hard time.
The reverse also applies to Zelenskyj and his followers. They celebrate possible EU accession as proof of belonging to the European family. But they never talk about common EU legislation and jurisprudence. This is an inevitable consequence of economic integration and the core of the European project.
However, the prosperity gained in this way has a political price: the states must share their sovereignty. Will Ukrainians be ready for this? Will they submit to European courts? And that when they have just defended their national identity with much blood and mourning?
Anyone who wants to prevent national populists from mobilizing against the “dictate from Brussels” in Ukraine must now speak openly about it. The demise of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary should be warning enough.