European Union leaders are set on Thursday to award Ukraine’s candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc, a first step in a long and unexpected journey toward full membership that could take many years to achieve.
Making the war-torn nation a competitor now appears to be over after leaders were initially divided over how quickly they could move to embrace the war-torn nation’s bid launched just days after Russia launched its invasion on February 24. .
According to several EU diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the summit in Brussels, Ukraine will get the unanimous consent needed to start discussions.
The 27 member states of the European Union united in support of Ukraine’s resistance to Russian invasion, and adopted unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow. However, leaders were initially divided over 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 got a boost last week when the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, gave its stamp of approval based on Ukraine’s answers to a questionnaire received in April and early May.
Ukraine received another shot in the arm when the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited the country and pledged to support her candidacy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he spoke with a total of 11 European Union leaders on Wednesday, after calls with nine the day before, in another indication of how important the EU candidacy is to Ukraine. He said the meeting in Brussels would be a “historic session of the European Council”.
Candidate status in the EU does not give an automatic right to join the bloc, nor does it provide any security guarantees.
For Ukraine, the start of accession discussions will depend on how the war-torn country manages to meet basic political and economic conditions.
To be accepted, potential newcomers must demonstrate they meet the criteria of democratic principles, and must absorb some 80,000 pages of rules covering everything from trade and immigration to fertilizer and the rule of law.
To help countries with candidate status, the bloc can provide technical and financial assistance during the negotiations, but it can also decide to cancel the status if the required reforms are not implemented.
European officials said Ukraine has already implemented about 70% of EU rules, regulations and standards, but has also repeatedly pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms.
Accession talks are unlikely to start before next year, with the war likely to last for a very long time adding to the uncertainty.
“Great efforts will be needed, particularly in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo. “But I am convinced that it is precisely the (post-war) reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities to take important steps forward.”
On Thursday, leaders will also discuss a European Commission recommendation to grant Moldova – a small non-NATO country bordering Ukraine – the status of an EU candidate. The stalled enlargement process to include the Western Balkan countries in the bloc is also on their agenda.
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