Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia's hopes of becoming members of the European Union gained momentum this week, with the bloc's European affairs ministers discussing their membership options at a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.
Last year, four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU unanimously agreed to grant Ukraine and neighboring Moldova EU candidacy status. But they said that Georgiastill had to fulfill certain reforms in order to attain the same status.
Jessika Roswall, Sweden's minister for EU affairs shared a similar sentiment regarding Georgia at the meeting in the Swedish capital but told reporters that it was impressive to see the reform efforts Ukraine and Moldova were making in order to become members of the European Union.
"Despite Russia's brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, it has made significant progress. This includes a new bill on the Constitutional Court and the adoption of a new Media Act. I am convinced that the report's content will be used as a guide for further reforms," she said.
"Moldova has also made considerable progress given the social situation and threats from Russia,” she added.
Ukraine's progress so far
The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi told reporters in Stockholm that Ukraine was "on track” with its progress and had met "two out of seven conditions” required to become an EU member.
The seven conditions laid out last year include curbing corruption and carrying out widespread judicial reforms.
Varhelyi said that Kyiv had taken significant steps by carrying out judicial reforms and adopting media legislation that was in line with the EU's media laws.
While he was positive that authorities in Kyiv would continue their internal reform efforts, he recommended Kyiv to "strengthen its anti-money laundering system” and take further measures against corruption, which are key steps to becoming EU members.
Since Kyiv received EU candidacy status, Ukrainian authorities have been targeting politicians, civil servants and oligarchs accused of corruption.
The prosecutor general's office for instance announced that a former department head at the Ukrainian defense ministry was suspected of embezzling particularly large sums of money, and last month, the head of the Supreme Court was also detained as a suspect for taking bribes worth $2.7 million (around €2.5 million).
Michael Leigh, visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, thinks that while the Commission is coming around to acknowledge Kyiv's progress, "it is also integral to question the major challenges that Ukraine would pose to the European Union as a candidate engaged in negotiations."
"We must remember that Ukraine is a large country of around 45 million people, with around a quarter of the workforce in agriculture, and a country whose national income per head is way below that of the EU. So if you applied existing EU policies with Ukraine as a member, is the bloc ready for more expenses? Some EU nations are bound to worry about how expensive enlargement is," he added.
So far, within the EU, countries like Poland and the Baltic nations, which border Ukraine, have been pushing for Kyiv's quick EU accession. But Germany, France and the Netherlands, have adopted a slower approach for accession talks.
Meanwhile, Hungary has been critical of the EU as well as NATO's enlargement procedures to include Ukraine since Budapest wants Kyiv to address how Ukraine treats ethnic Hungarians living in the country.
What happens to Moldova and Georgia?
According to EU media outlet Euractiv, European Commission's enlargement progress update said that Moldova had fully implemented "three out of nine conditions" related to human rights and democracy, while Georgia still had a lot of work to do and had achieved "three out of twelve recommendations" to attain EU candidacy status.
"Moldova has the specific problem that with Transnistria, a part of its national territory is occupied and administered by Russia and this is challenging the country as it seeks to become an EU member," Leigh said.
"Meanwhile, Georgia's government has vacillated between those which are more pro-Western and more pro-Russian and the country needs to address this issue as it works on gaining EU candidacy status," Leigh explained.
"One could but wonder how this will challenge the EU when it is time for Moldova to become a member of the EU. These are questions the EU has to start addressing as a part of enlargement discussions," he added.
Enlargement a good policy to counter Russia?
The EU's enlargement procedure to including Ukraine, Moldova and eventually Georgia seeks to be a strong signal towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Leigh said that the Kremlin would view this enlargement negatively.
"Twenty years ago, Putin was not so concerned about countries that had previously been part of the Soviet Union moving towards EU membership. His main concern was NATO membership because it's a military alliance. But as the years went by, Putin has begun to see the prospect of EU membership as a threat as well," Leigh said.
"But I think the EU should also understand that under the current geopolitical situation, enlargement alone as a foreign policy tool, won't solve its problems with Russia. The bloc should also focus on developing other tools to implement geopolitical policies like in the area of security and defense," he added.
The European Union is expected to formally assess the European Commission's enlargement report in October, where the bloc's 27 leaders will have the final say on the accession progress of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
Edited by: Andreas Illmer