Ukrainian Centre for European Policy: Recommendations for Belgium’s Presidency in the Council of the European Union

2023-11-14 | Expert publications, Sanctions, EU integration, Reconstruction

Ukrainian expectations

Belgium will take over the presidency in the Council of the EU during the period when Ukraine may embark on accession negotiations with the EU. Ukraine expects Belgium to act as a facilitator to ensure Ukraine’s smooth advancement throughout the accession procedure (i.e. adoption of the negotiating framework and holding the First Intergovernmental Conference) and also reach a cohesive position regarding future EU reform. As the Russian war of aggression drags on, Ukraine is counting on the strong position of Belgium regarding the continuation of already initiated sanctions, financial, defence and humanitarian support until the end of its presidency in 2024.

It is important for Ukraine that the Belgian Presidency continues the implementation of the Trio Presidencies programme to coordinate and provide support to Ukraine and ensure that the pace of the enlargement process does not slow down. In this vein, Ukraine relies on Belgium’s principled position on preventing Hungary from obstructing Ukraine’s accession process, EU financial support to Ukraine, and adopting sanctions packages.


EU enlargement and Ukraine’s accession

Further enlargement of the EU and in particular Ukraine’s accession is of geopolitical importance for both Ukraine and the EU. Ukraine considers the EU one of its main strategic partners and is interested in contributing to European security and EU strategic autonomy in various sectors. Therefore, it is in the interests of both partners to have unhindered negotiations on Ukraine’s accession, without harmful interference from individual member states. As the member states are discussing future EU reform, this process should be decoupled from the enlargement process so as not to block it. Presiding in the Council of the EU, Belgium could facilitate both processes but they should be conducted separately from each other.

It is expected that the opening of the accession negotiation for Ukraine will take place during the Belgian presidency. Belgium could take the initiative to develop a unified vision of the member states regarding the accession of Ukraine. Since Ukraine is at war with an aggressor state, its accession process may include intermediate steps, such as sectoral integration, which may boost investments and also provide an incentive for comprehensive reforms.


Sectoral integration and respect for bilateral obligations between the EU and Ukraine

It is vital for Ukraine to continue the suspension of import duties, quotas and trade defence measures on Ukrainian exports to the European Union, as well as the Agreement on Road Transport. These measures should be in place for at least 3 years after the war to boost Ukraine’s economy. In addition, Ukraine could gain gradual access to the EU Single Market as part of the accession negotiations. This was partly provided for in the Association Agreement (such as the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Goods (ACAA)), but could also be extended to those sectors where Ukraine has achieved the required level of compliance, e.g. digital or postal services. These measures would ensure a tangible effect of European integration for Ukrainian citizens and attract more investments. Therefore, Belgium could contribute to pursuing Ukraine’s agenda among the member states.


EU-Ukraine defence cooperation

There is a potential for expanding EU-Ukraine cooperation in the field of defence. This may involve prolongation of the already existing activities, such as the European Peace Facility and EU Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM). The latter may potentially grow into a sustainable training mission provided by the EU member states. The same long-term strategic approach may be applied to other ad hoc projects, such as common ammunition procurement for Ukraine. In addition, Ukraine is interested in participating in the projects of  PESCO, the European Defence Fund (EDF), the Defence Investment Programme (EDIP), and the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act (EDIRPA).


Deepening and expansion of sanctions pressure on aggressor state

Despite the sanctions imposed by the EU and the global coalition, Russia has not yet lost its ability to wage war. Therefore, it is urgent to introduce further European and global restrictions on military, dual-use and civilian goods used first of all for the production of missiles and drones.

    • The introduction of the full energy embargo, including gas and a ban on the import of liquefied natural gas from Russia should be also among EU priorities.
    • Given Russia’s profits from the countries that depended on nuclear fuel and attempts to seize the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant and blackmail by nuclear incidents, there is an urgent need for sanctions in the nuclear power industry as well as against persons involved in the mentioned illegal activities.
    • It is considered necessary to increase pressure on the banking system, disconnecting all Russian and Belarusian banks from SWIFT, first of all Gazprombank.
    • Further expansion of individual sanctions on pro-Kremlin propagandists, athletes, journalists and artists and against Russian elites and oligarchs, government officials, members of their families, and entities including the military and industrial complex of Russia could be also effective.
    • Restrictions on imports of iron ore, and cast iron as well as a broadening ban on import from Russia of metal products and semi-final products, for example, iron ore & pellets, pig iron, directly reduced iron, axles and wheels could also create an opportunity for Ukrainian industry to cover EU demand.
    • There is still a gap in sanctions on the purchase, import or transportation of titanium, aluminium, copper, nickel, palladium, rhodium, as well as diamonds.
    • Blocking the ways of circumventing sanctions via third countries is a key element of proper implementation of the sanctions legislation in the EU and a growing issue that needs to be addressed.


Reconstruction of Ukraine

Reconstruction of Ukraine is high on the agenda of the EU and other partners. However, the EU could take the lead in the systematization of international cooperation on Ukraine’s reconstruction and the unification and formalization of the rules of the Platform for the Reconstruction of Ukraine. Furthermore, under its presidency, Belgium could initiate the development of a legal basis for using frozen Russian assets for Ukraine’s reconstruction (it would make sense as the majority of Russian frozen assets sits in Belgium). Another issue is establishing a common EU instrument to provide insurance of risks during the war for EU businesses intending to invest in Ukraine.


The full study can be accessed here.