The European Union executive has recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc as Vladimir Putin’s war continues to unite Europe.
President Volodymyr Zelensky applied for Ukraine’s EU membership just four days after Russian troops launched Moscow’s invasion of the country in February.
The promise to join a union created to safeguard peace carries deep symbolism for the nation at war, but it is only the first step in a process that could take decades.
The European Commission’s recommendation is the first step on the long road to membership and comes a day after four European Union leaders pledged their support for Kyiv’s bid.
“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and determination to uphold European values and standards,” EU Executive Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.
She made the announcement in Ukrainian colors, a yellow blazer over a blue shirt.
Leaders of EU countries are expected to endorse the decision at a summit next week. The leaders of the three biggest – Germany, France and Italy – showed their solidarity on Thursday by traveling to Kyiv, accompanied by the President of Romania.
“Ukraine belongs to the European family”, German Olaf Scholz said after meeting President Zelensky
The launch of accession negotiations requires the unanimous approval of all member countries.
The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine’s candidate status, but the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided on how quickly and fully to open arms to new members.
Ukraine will still face a long process to reach the standards required for membership, and there are other candidates in the waiting room. Membership is also not guaranteed – talks have stalled for years with Turkey, an official candidate since 1999.
But the launch of the application process, a decision that would have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago, amounts to a change comparable to the decision taken in the 1990s to welcome the former communist countries of Eastern Europe .
“Precisely thanks to the bravery of Ukrainians, Europe can create a new story of freedom and finally eliminate the gray zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia,” President Zelensky said in his nightly video address. .
“Ukraine has moved closer to the EU, closer than ever since independence,” he said, citing unspecified “good news” to come.
If admitted, Ukraine would be the largest country in the EU in terms of land area and the fifth most populous. The three hopefuls are far poorer than any of the current EU members, with per capita output around half that of the poorest Bulgaria.