On Thursday, European Union leaders are set to make Ukraine a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc, a first step in a long and unpredictable journey to full membership that could take many years to navigate.
Making Ukraine a competitor now appears to be a done deal after national leaders were initially divided on how quickly to accept the war-torn country’s application for EU membership, which the Ukrainian government submitted just days later. after Russia invaded its neighbor in February. 24.
According to several diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a leaders’ summit in Brussels, Ukraine will receive the unanimous approval required for candidate status and the start of eligibility negotiations.
“This is a defining moment for the European Union,” said European Council President Charles Michel, chairman of the EU summit, describing the question of Ukraine’s candidacy as “a geopolitical choice that we will make today.”
Members of the European Parliament backed Ukraine’s offer hours before the summit began, voting to pass a resolution calling on EU heads of state and government to “act without delay” and “live up to their historical responsibility.
Olha Stefanishyna, a Ukrainian official who oversees the country’s push to join the European Union, said on Wednesday she was “100%” sure the 27-nation EU would approve Ukraine’s EU bid.
The 27 EU nations have come together to support Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow. However, leaders were initially divided on how quickly the EU should move to accept Ukraine as a member, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark among the most skeptical.
But Ukraine’s request received a boost last week when the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, gave its stamp of approval based on the country’s responses to a questionnaire received in April and early May.
Ms Stefanishyna described the European Commission’s backing as “a game changer” that had pulled ground from under “the legs of the most hesitant”.
Ukraine was given another chance when the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited the country and promised to support its candidacy.
In another indication of how important the EU bid is for Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke with 11 EU leaders on Wednesday, after calls with nine the day before. He said the meeting in Brussels will be a “historic session of the European Council”.
However, EU candidate status does not grant an automatic right to join the bloc and does not provide any security guarantee.
Membership talks are unlikely to start before next year, as the prospect of the war dragging on for a long time adds to the uncertainty.
The start of accession discussions depends on Ukraine fulfilling essential political and economic conditions.
To be admitted, potential newcomers must demonstrate that they meet the standards of democratic principles and absorb a gigantic body of rules. To help countries with candidate status, the bloc can provide technical and financial assistance during negotiations, but can also decide to revoke status if required reforms are not implemented.
Ms. Stefanishyna told the Associated Press that she believes Ukraine could be an EU member within a few years, not the decades that some European officials have predicted.
“We are already very integrated in the European Union,” he said. “We want to be a strong and competitive member state, so it may take two to 10 years.”
European officials have said Ukraine has already implemented around 70% of EU rules, regulations and standards, but have also pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms in the country.
“Considerable efforts will be needed, especially in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “But I am convinced that it is precisely the [post-war] reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities to take important steps forward.”
The leaders will also discuss on Thursday a recommendation that the European Commission grant Moldova, a small non-NATO country that borders Ukraine, EU candidate status. A stalled process to move Western Balkan countries down the path to membership is also on the summit’s agenda.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Associated Press writer John Leicester contributed to this report.