European leaders are ready to give Ukraine candidate status in a historic decision that opens the door to EU membership for the war-torn country and gives Vladimir Putin a blow.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status later Thursday, almost four months after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy launched his country’s attempt to join the bloc in the early days of the Russian invasion.
The transition from candidate to candidate usually takes years, but the EU has dramatically accelerated the process, amid outrage over the brutality of the unprovoked Russian attack, and to show solidarity with Ukraine’s defenders.
“Ukraine is going through hell for a simple reason: its desire to join the EU,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the eve of the summit. Last week, the Commission called on EU leaders to grant Ukraine’s candidate status. “Our opinion acknowledges the enormous progress [Ukrainian] democracy has achieved since the Maidan protests in 2014, ”said Von der Leyen.
Zelenskiy welcomed the expected positive decision, saying: “This is like walking into the light of darkness.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the candidate status would “draw a line under decades of ambiguity and set it in stone: Ukraine is Europe, not part of the ‘Russian world'”.
Speaking on the decision on candidate status, Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Vsevolod Chentsov, said earlier this week that the EU had moved at “lightning speed” by its standards.
“We need this clarity [on EU membership] to support the Ukrainian army, the Ukrainian society, morally, psychologically and to get the clear sense and understanding of the direction of movement of Ukraine, ”he said.
Ukraine has been seeking EU membership since the “orange revolution” in 2004 and more emphatically since the Maidan protests in 2013-14, in which the pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted after refusing to sign an association agreement with the bloc. . But before the war, EU membership was off the table for the country of 41 million people plagued by corruption.
When Zelenskiy announced Ukraine’s EU membership, many countries in Western Europe were skeptical. Senior officials spoke to 10 member states opposing candidate status for Ukraine, but sentiment has shifted as leaders feared being on the wrong side of history.
EU capitals also know that membership negotiations will take many years. The process could go in reverse order if a future Kiev government fails to implement rule of law reforms and align its economy with EU standards.
A draft copy of the summit’s conclusions seen by the Guardian states that a candidate country’s progress will depend on “its own merits”, but also “taking into account the EU’s ability to admit new members”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said the EU must “reform its internal procedures” to prepare new members, and calls for greater use of qualified majority voting in areas such as foreign policy to get a country to block a decision.
France is one of several countries opposed to giving up its veto on foreign policy decisions.
EU leaders are also expected to give EU candidate status to Moldova, the former Soviet country of 3.5 million, which has seen an increase in tensions since the Russian invasion of its neighbor. Georgia is expected to be awarded a “European Perspective”, a step up the ladder below candidate status. Georgia, along with Moldova, submitted an application to join the EU shortly after the Russian invasion, but Brussels is concerned about Tbilisi’s return to the rule of law and freedom of the press.