In late June, the European Council (leaders from the 27 EU Member States) granted Ukraine and Moldova the status of “candidate countries” for EU membership, and promised Georgia the same once it meets certain conditions. What are the practical consequences of this seminal decision?
In short, the process of preparing for membership in the European Union is fundamentally political and tailored to each specific country and historical moment. For instance, no country in the EU’s history had to simultaneously wage war to defend its homeland and independence while on the accession path. Although there are various precedents, accession criteria, pre-existing funding streams, and established processes, the scale, type, and duration of benefits available to Ukraine from the EU accession path will be unique. As important as the psychological boost to Ukraine from the EU’s political signal, the tangible benefits from Ukraine’s candidacy status will be invaluable.
Notwithstanding four earlier rounds of enlargement in the 1970s-1990s (Denmark, Ireland, UK, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Finland, and Sweden), significant EU pre-accession funding started with the enlargement process across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after the end of the Cold War. The first major program, PHARE (Poland and Hungary Assistance for Restructuring their Economies), launched in 1989 to cover these two countries and soon expanded to eight other candidate countries to prepare them for EU membership. It distributed about €16 billion between 1990 and 2006. There were also two targeted funding programs for the environment and transport (ISPA) as well as agriculture (SAPARD), which distributed an additional €5 billion.