EU foreign affairs ministers call for meeting with candidate countries

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EU foreign ministers called on Thursday for a meeting with their counterparts from Ukraine and the western Balkans — all candidate countries to the bloc — by the end of September to discuss the enlargement process.

“I think that the war in Ukraine has had a collateral effect that is to speed up the enlargement process which is certainly a merit-based process”, EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell said from Toledo, Spain following an informal meeting of foreign affairs ministers from across the 27-country bloc. 

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Borrell said this meeting would give a political impetus to the process, a political target, “a horizon” as the EU has to prepare for potentially 10 more members. 

But as the prospect of Ukraine joining the bloc is becoming more of a reality, questions are raised as to how this can be done without putting the project of European integration at risk.

Especially budgetary issues and problems of governance come to mind.

Analysts see momentum for enlargement, but the EU needs to reform itself first.

“Member states are only starting to realise and to grapple with the reality of what it implies of reform, that what it will change for their own, how they benefit and how they need to contribute to the EU,” Mathieu Droin, analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, told Euronews. 

“First is how Ukraine is able to reform itself. And what we are seeing is that they are really, truly committed and they have been a tremendous amount of work in one year span, which is quite impressive. But it’s still unclear how the EU plans to do it, because there are a lot of questions on the decision-making within the EU on how to recalibrate different programs, for instance, of agriculture with Ukraine being a major agricultural country.”

Meanwhile, Hungary is still blocking the 8th installment of a €500 million military aid package to Ukraine.

Budapest argues that Hungary’s OTP Bank’s designation as a war sponsor is “unacceptable”.

The government wants the name to be removed altogether from the Ukrainian blacklist as a pre-condition for further military aid.

One of the priorities of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU is to maintain coordinated support for Ukraine and to do so by strengthening European unity.

To ensure the sustainability of assistance to Ukraine, the EU envisages creating an assistance fund for the country of up to €5 billion per year for the period 2024-2027, which would be integrated into the European Peace Facility.

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Borrell indicated that ministers had discussed the issue and hoped that an agreement could be concluded before the end of the year.

The status of the training mission of Ukrainian military personnel by the armed forces of the member states was also assessed. According to Borrell, a total of 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers have already received training, and the goal of training 30,000 by the end of the year will be achieved earlier than planned, by the end of October.

The High Representative therefore proposed to ministers to raise the target to 40,000 trained Ukrainian military personnel in the coming months.

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