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EU All Set To Open Membership Talks With Ukraine And Moldova, But Problems Lie Ahead

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FILE PHOTO: Pro-European integration protesters attend a rally in Maidan Nezalezhnosti on Independence Square in central Kiev, December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

The European Union will open membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday. This gives the country a political boost in the midst of its war with Russia.  But a long and tough road still lies ahead before it can join the bloc.

The ceremony in Luxembourg will be more about symbolism than the nitty-gritty of negotiations. This will start after the EU has screened Ukrainian legislation to assess if all the reforms needed to meet the bloc’s standards have been done.

EU talks with Ukraine, Moldova are a signal to Russia

The EU’s talks with Ukraine and Moldova suggest both countries are on a path away from Russian influence. They are moving towards greater integration with the West.

The moment will be poignant for many Ukrainians. They trace their current conflict with Moscow back to the Maidan uprising of 2014. It was then protesters toppled a pro-Russian president who reneged on a pledge to develop closer ties with the EU.

Ihor Zhovkva, foreign policy adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said it would give Ukrainians’ morale a big lift.

“It is very important. The path to full-fledged membership, which Ukraine deserves … is irreversible.”

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna will lead the Ukrainian delegation at the event. The event is known in EU jargon as an Accession Conference. It is due to begin around 3:30 p.m. (1330 GMT).

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Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib will speak for the EU as Belgium holds the bloc’s main rotating presidency.

Ukraine faces a tough road ahead

The journey to EU membership is arduous for candidate countries. They must reform to meet EU standards on a wide range of issues, from corruption, regulating agriculture to harmonising customs rules.

The war adds a huge extra layer of challenges for both Kyiv and Brussels. It raises questions neither wants to answer at the moment – such as whether Ukraine could join if part of its territory was still occupied by Russian forces.

The prospect of Moldovan membership poses similar questions, albeit on a smaller scale. Russian soldiers are currently stationed in its breakaway Transdniestria region.

Candidate countries need approval from all 27 EU members to open and close each step of membership negotiations, giving EU governments numerous opportunities to hold up the process. Then Hungary held up the start of the talks, citing concerns about the rights and treatment of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine.

Possible overhaul of EU rules needed

Enlarging the EU to include Ukraine and Moldova – and other hopefuls such as Western Balkan countries and Georgia – would need a radical overhaul of EU rules. This would affect everything from farm and economic development subsidies to decision-making.

With inputs from Reuters