EU leaders are in Kiev for a summit with Ukraine, the first summit since Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade the country.
The two sides will discuss a variety of issues, from European military and humanitarian support to further action against Russia.
At the top of the agenda, however, are talks about Ukraine joining the EU. This will probably leave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky disappointed. Yes, the EU has accepted Ukraine as a candidate country. Yes, Europe has broadly united to support Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression. But joining the EU is a complicated, lengthy process which, however urgent Ukraine’s wishes may be, cannot be accelerated.
Ahead of the summit, Zelensky announced a widespread crackdown on corruption in Ukraine. It is no secret that the level of corruption in his country would soon make joining the EU difficult, so the move should be welcomed. But while Ukraine is still at war, it will be very difficult for the EU to properly assess how much this action has achieved.
Perhaps more importantly, the people of Kiev are representatives of the European institutions and not the heads of government.
Anything complicated in the EU — and countries that join are about the most complex — requires the agreement of all 27 members. This can take more than 10 years. They don’t just have to agree for a country to join, they have to agree that the candidate country meets all kinds of criteria through a series of votes that in some cases have to be approved in the national parliaments of the member states. And since member states almost always disagree on one issue or another, these votes can be used as bargaining chips.
So, in a nutshell, the EU can promise Ukraine more support, including what Kiev would like right now. But on the big question, even the heads of the institutions are at the mercy of domestic European politics.