Ukraine applies to join the European Union

March 1, 2022

An Urgent Request

"We ask the European Union for Ukraine's immediate accession via a new special procedure."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after applying for Ukraine's membership to the European Union on Monday.
What To Know & Why It Matters.

"The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights …"

Treaty on European Union (2008). Initially called the “European Economic Community,” it began post-WWII (1958) with the founding idea that “countries that trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict.” The group has since grown to include 27 member countries who share a single (“internal”) market. Citizens of EU countries may travel, live and work freely in any EU country they choose.

How To Join?

  • Any European country that’s committed to and respects the EU’s democratic values may apply to join the EU. However, the process of joining is elaborate and can take years.
  • Before joining, the applying nation must meet key criteria, comply with the EU’s rules and standards, have consent from *every* EU member country, and have the agreement from their citizens (e.g., by a vote).
  • The applying country must also implement EU legislation. Most EU countries agree to use the euro — the union’s official currency.

"We are fighting for our rights — freedom and life … but we are also fighting to be equal members of Europe."

Translation of Ukrainian Pres. Zelensky addressing EU lawmakers via a video call on Tuesday. Pres. Zelensky wants the EU to fast-track the joining process for Ukraine, pleading: “With us on board, the EU will definitely be stronger … Prove that you’re with us … prove that you’re truly Europeans, and then life will beat death and light will beat darkness.” After his address, in which the translator appeared to hold back tears, EU lawmakers gave Pres. Zelensky a standing ovation.

"It is going to be difficult, we know that there are different views in Europe [about further EU enlargements]."

Pres. of the European Council (EU body that defines its overall priorities and political direction), Charles Michel, speaking to EU lawmakers after Pres. Zelensky’s appeal. While supportive of Zelensky, EU officials emphasize that there isn’t a quick process for membership. However, on Mon. evening, the presidents of eight EU states published a letter calling on the EU to “consolidate highest political support to Ukraine and … to immediately grant Ukraine a EU candidate country status …”

If Ukraine were to become an EU country, not only would it more closely align itself with the West (most of Europe) but also could be provided with additional military support due to the mutual defense clause amongst EU members.

On average, it takes a new applicant around eight years to join the EU. The most recently-accepted countries include Croatia (2013), Bulgaria (2007) and Poland (2004).

The European Union: What it is and what it does

Pres. Zelensky’s appeal on Tuesday:

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy ups pressure on EU with plea for immediate membership

Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the European Union

EU to seriously look at Ukraine’s ‘legitimate’ request for EU membership

Open letter by Presidents in support of Ukraine’s swift candidacy to the European Union

Current EU Country Profiles

by Jenna Lee,