On 23 June 2022, Ukraine obtained candidate status for accession to the European Union. Since then, there have been numerous on-going discussions across the country on how ordinary people can contribute towards accelerating Ukrainian integration into Europe.
The Ukrainian-EU accession process: what happened already and what to expect?
Ukraine applied for EU membership right after Russia’s full-scale war of aggression against the country began. It took less than four months for the European Council (EC) to agree to provide Ukraine with candidate status. On 23 June 2022, Ukraine obtained a ‘green light’ from the EC and was also given ‘homework’: a list of certain specified conditions that it had to fulfill. The European Commission will only recommend that the European Council opens negotiations on membership, if Ukraine has already complied with these conditions.
The most positive scenario here would be the opening of negotiations in October 2023 after the annual progress report of the European Commission on EU candidate member states . A negative scenario would see the postponement of the start of negotiations until 2024 or even later.
Therefore, it is of a paramount importance that civil society, youth, academic representatives and other Ukrainians who are interested in their country becoming an EU member state put all their efforts into making this happen.
Ukrainian youth: burden of the war and ‘golden’ opportunities
Young Ukrainians have faced unprecedented difficulties since the full-scale invasion began. Uncertainty about their future, destruction of schools and universities, restrictions on travel abroad (for males, in particular), simply the desire to survive and stay alive, all of these issues have impacted millions of adolescents and students across the country. Moreover, some young people have been conscripted to the armed forces of Ukraine and are currently standing at the forefront of Russian aggression.
Nevertheless, the candidate status that Ukraine has obtained opens new horizons and motivates young people to be engaged even more in matters of foreign affairs and EU integration, and also to contribute towards Ukrainian EU accession. So, how can they help to do this?
1) Traineeships at EU institutions.
As many already know, there are a number of traineeships (Schuman, Blue Book) in EU institutions that offer the opportunity for young people to acquire professional experience. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine prompted EU authorities and MEPs to open even more doors for Ukrainian young people and provide them with opportunities within the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and other EU bodies. Traineeships within EU institutions bring numerous benefits to young Ukrainians. They contribute towards personal and professional development and provide valuable experience that will later benefit Ukrainian-EU relations. They also provide young people with a unique chance to knock on various doors and lobby for greater support for Ukraine, to keep Ukrainian-related issues on the agenda and chat with MEPs on questions that urgently need to be addressed. And these are only some of the opportunities a young person could have (quite apart from opportunities for further employment, networking circles, etc).
2) Participation in study exchanges, educational programmes, youth exchanges, and volunteering projects.
Young people nowadays have excellent opportunities to go abroad for study exchanges or short or long-term volunteering projects across EU member states. These opportunities should not be neglected. Each of us can be cultural ambassadors for Ukraine and represent our country on a European scale. It’s important to bear this in mind, to communicate with EU citizens, to break and debunk stereotypes. Ukrainians have to start thinking and behaving like EU citizens already at the level of their daily routine and ordinary life.
3) Civil society activism in Ukraine.
Civil society was one of the driving forces behind Ukraine achieving EU candidate status. Dozens of NGOs worked 24/7 during the spring of 2022 in order to complete all the necessary requirements from the European Commission and submit everything on time. My recommendation would be simply to reach out to one of the community service organisations that are active in the field of EU affairs and apply for a traineeship or a job with them. Personally, I’m a non-resident analyst for the foundation ‘Europe Without Barriers’ that concerns itself with issues of border management and migration in Ukraine and also beyond its borders (EU scale, predominantly). This co-operation started with a simple enquiry about how I could contribute towards the NGO’s activities and what current projects they are involved in.
4) Universities and the academic dimension.
Formal education in Ukraine finds itself in very precarious conditions due to the war. Nevertheless, lecturers, professors and students altogether are a very powerful mechanism driving the educational system of Ukraine and making it more progressive every single day. One should remember that the educational sphere is one of the foundations of the welfare state and Ukraine is not an exception there. Ukrainian academics have formed strong cooperation and partnerships with their colleagues worldwide. And it is important to use such networks to communicate the professionalism and potential of Ukraine’s young people, who pursue their under/postgraduate studies under such a terrible war conditions. EU colleagues have already demonstrated their awareness of our situation, but there still needs to be constant communication from the Ukrainian perspective regarding the needs of our universities, our academics and, primarily, of our students. They are the ones who will be leading Ukraine once it joins the EU.
5) Building expertise in a certain area independently and becoming a professional there.
Even if you don’t want to work for one of these organisations, or be involved in formal education, there are still opportunities to develop your expertise in certain specific policy areas such as human rights, gender equality, migration, environmental protection, etc. One suggestion would be to read a lot of literature on a specific issue, to chat with professionals from that area, contribute with analytical expertise, be a panelist at some discussions, etc. Remember – it is important just to start, and things will progress from there.
As we can see, there are options for young Ukrainians to be engaged in, and foster, the EU integration process either from inside Ukraine, or while living abroad. The process of EU accession will take time and there should not be any blind optimism in that regard. Ukraine will become a full-fledged member of the EU when the citizens of the country, including its young people, embrace this responsibility in their everyday life. When ordinary Ukrainian youngsters will be proactive, demonstrate initiative, show they can think critically and have the motivation for self-development – EU integration will move faster and more smoothly. Therefore, it is important to remember for every Ukrainian who currently finds him/herself abroad that we already represent Ukraine and that political decisions on the highest EU levels will depend to a certain extent on our actions and activities in host countries. EU integration will certainly depend on our ability to think globally and act locally and our ability to make Ukraine a dignified member of the European family.