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On the doorstep of the EU, Ukraine poses a defense question to Europeans


kyiv has completed the administrative formalities. During her visit to Ukraine on April 8, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, solemnly presented Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with the form necessary to launch the process of his country’s accession to the European Union. It only took ten days for the Head of State to submit it duly completed to the EU Ambassador to Ukraine, Matti Maasikas.

On Monday 18 April in the evening, when sending the two voluminous files, he even expressed the wish to obtain ” in the coming weeks “ the status of candidate for entry into the EU, thanking Brussels for its speed.

An unknown involvement

No hostile reaction emanated from Moscow: only entry into NATO constitutes an absolute red line. It was, however, the beginning of the rapprochement with the EU, via the association agreement in preparation with Ukraine, which had led in 2014 to the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

→ REREAD. In kyiv, Ursula von der Leyen closes EU-Ukraine ranks

Today, the accession process would have enough to attract the ire of the Kremlin because of an unrecognized implication of European integration: the Treaty of Lisbon (2007) provides for a “mutual defense clause” (Article 42-7) almost as binding as Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. “In the event that a Member State is the object of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States must help and assist it by all means in their power”, indicates the text, while specifying that the commitments made in this context must remain “compliant” to those of the 21 EU members integrated into NATO.

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Is this a good plan B for Ukraine, strategically? “This is not what Ukraine is putting forward, and if it did, it would no doubt come up against an outcry from a good number of member states who refuse any risk of becoming co-belligerents”, says Édouard Simon, expert in European security and defense issues at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris). It recalls that European collective defence, “in its infancy”, still does not stand up well to comparison with American security guarantees.

A theory still far from practice

The prospect of membership remains remote. But the recognition of Ukraine as a candidate could happen quickly, from the next European Council, on June 23 and 24. However, the rest of the process comes up against many obstacles. The integration of Ukraine into the EU, which requires the unanimity of the Member States, will only be possible after the return of peace, provided that a series of criteria are fulfilled, for example, in terms of the fight against Corruption.

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→ DEBATE. Is it appropriate to offer Ukraine to join the EU?

And assuming that Ukraine would one day become a full member of the EU, the defense implications would be far from neutral, Edouard Simon points out: “It is something that will necessarily be taken into account in the accession process. The geographical overlap between the EU and NATO is such that the activity of one can automatically lead to the activity of the other. »

Until now, article 42-7 has never been invoked for military reasons. strictly speaking. It was however activated once, by France, in 2015, the day after the attacks of November 13. François Hollande declares his country ” in war “ against Islamist terrorism, which is not “not only the enemy of France, but the enemy of Europe”. It was in the name of this duty of solidarity that several Member States subsequently supported the Barkhane force in the Sahel.

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