Ukraine war spurs enlargement discussions for both Nato and the EU

June set to be crucial month as enlargement may be considered at back-to-back summits

The invasion of Ukraine has galvanised enlargement discussions for both the European Union and Nato as countries close to Russia seek safety in numbers and to secure their ambitions for the future.

On Monday both Moldova and Georgia received EU membership questionnaires, a step to begin the complex and lengthy accession process to the bloc, while Finland and Sweden kicked off debates on whether to join Nato.

The Finnish government announced it would present a white paper to its parliament on Wednesday to begin discussion about its security arrangements and Nato membership.

"Based on that debate, of course, government will make the conclusions together with the president of the republic," Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters.

The Finnish and Swedish governments are closely co-ordinating, “and hopefully, if we make similar kinds of decisions, we could do them around the same time”, he added.

Since the invasion, support for Nato membership has ballooned in Finland, which shares a long border with Russia and has been invaded by its neighbour in the past.

Support for joining Nato was at 68 per cent, compared with 12 per cent against, in a poll published on Monday by Finnish broadcaster MTV.

Polls have also indicated rising support for joining Nato in Sweden, especially if Finland joins.

Only a month ago prime minister Magdalena Andersson rejected calls from the Swedish opposition to consider Nato membership. But on Monday her Social Democrat party launched a review of its international security policy, saying the invasion of Ukraine had "fundamentally" changed Sweden's security situation.

Warning

Russia has warned both countries against joining the 30-member alliance. Both have been attending Nato meetings as guests since the invasion.

Finland is expected to try to have its membership request ready for June, when leaders of Nato meet for a summit in Madrid. A request to join would be expected to receive warm support. Formal accession requires a treaty change that is ratified by all 30 existing members, a process that in the past has taken roughly a year.

June may also be a key month for future EU enlargement, as national leaders are expected to consider whether to grant candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia.

Ukraine is expected to have the highest priority as a potential new candidate state when EU leaders meet a week before the Nato summit. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was personally handed the EU membership questionnaire by commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv on Friday.

The questionnaires are a way to gather information on the state of the country concerned, such as the strength of its legal system, to identify what reforms are needed to align with the EU and whether it is ready to become an official candidate for membership.

Based on the responses the commission makes a recommendation to national governments, who then decide whether to grant candidate status.

Both the European Commission and aspirant member states aim to complete the questionnaire process in weeks, instead of the usual years.

Nevertheless, enlarging the EU requires the agreement of all existing member states and several remain opposed to admitting new countries, even though they are more willing to be supportive in the current geopolitical situation.

"This is a historic day for Moldova, for Georgia. Ukraine had this historic day a few days ago," Moldovan deputy prime minister and foreign minister Nicu Popescu told reporters as he arrived in Luxembourg to receive the questionnaire.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “makes everyone reassess... their contribution to the history of our European continent”, Mr Popescu said, describing what he felt was a new sense of “commitment” from national leaders and the public to “show more solidarity and mutual support”.

“We are going to make the most of this historic opportunity to bring Moldova closer to the European Union and into the European Union.”