December 8, 2023

Seminar on the possible impact of Ukraine’s EU membership

The International Centre for Defence and Security hosted a seminar on the future of Europe and the potential impact of Ukraine’s EU accession on 7 December 2023.

The panel discussion, moderated by Dr Kristi Raik, the Deputy Director of the ICDS, featured Jim Cloos, a high-ranking European official, Dr Steven Blockmans, a senior fellow at CEPS (Brussels) and ICDS, and Klen Jäärats, the Prime Minister’s EU Sherpa and Director of the EU Secretariat, Government Office of Estonia. All the esteemed experts brought their years of experience and different perspectives to the table, contributing to an engaging and fruitful debate.

The think-tankers’ contribution to such complex — and often politically-tainted – matters as the EU enlargement is particularly valuable since they can afford to be bolder and more ambitious in their projections. The panellists thus attempted to tackle were the legitimate concerns that establishments on the national and EU level alike, are voicing when discussing the potential impact of not only Ukraine’s accession but the feasibility of the EU enlargement prospects overall. These controversial issues include financial implications, absorption capacity, institutional framework, internal reform, and treaty changes, among others.

The speakers agreed that in order to solve those questions, we need to start working on them. As we move forward, we need to adopt a holistic, and even geopolitical, approach to enlargement, while remembering that it is always a two-way street. Moreover, we must always treat EU enlargement as a process and not as a series of separate developments.

While trying to estimate how much the enlargement will cost us, however, we must also remember to ask ourselves how much we will undoubtedly have to pay for a failure to do so. Although we must avoid minimizing the problems, we shall not forget the success stories we have experienced – such as that of Estonia – and the challenges that the European community has already proven to be able to overcome.

There is always the risk of overpromising and underdelivering. Therefore, on the one hand, we must be moderate with our rhetoric and temper our emotions. In this sense, the technocratic nature of the EU institutions is an advantage that adds more democratic checks and balances to politics on the national level. On the other hand, we must be wary of what the Soviet era saying best describes as “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” Hence, even with multiple uncertainties in the background – and the outcomes of Ukraine’s war of defence being one of them – we must move at full speed with the steps that we can take now in the certainly long accession process.

The world around us might have become more complicated since the EU embarked on the enlargement journey last time, and the challenges ahead might seem bigger today. Yet, we must remember that the stakes for Europe are also higher and that we, as Europeans, are all in it together.

This seminar was held as part of the project on “The political and economic impact of Ukraine’s EU accession on the EU and Estonia” conducted by the ICDS in cooperation with the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels (CEPS) and the Ukrainian Institute for Economic Research and Policy. The multi-disciplinary research team assesses the potential political, security-related, institutional, economic, and budgetary implications of Ukraine’s EU accession. The project is led by Dr Kristi Raik, Deputy Director of the ICDS, and supported by the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Within the framework of this project, three policy papers exploring different aspects of Ukraine’s EU accession were published. The publications are available online on the ICDS’ website:

Filed under: Events