BRUSSELS – European Union leaders are set to grant Ukraine candidate status to join the 27-nation bloc on Thursday, a first step on a long and unpredictable journey to full membership that could take many years to achieve.
Making the war-torn country a contender now appears to be a done deal after leaders were initially divided on how quickly they could move to accept the war-torn country’s offer that was launched just days after it Russia launched its invasion on February 24. .
According to several EU diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the Brussels summit, Ukraine will receive the unanimous approval required for the start of discussions.
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 offer got a boost last week when the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, gave its stamp of approval based on Ukraine’s responses to a questionnaire received in April and early May.
Ukraine was given another chance when the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited the country and promised to support its candidacy.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he spoke to a total of 11 EU leaders on Wednesday, following calls with nine the day before, in another indication of how important the EU’s bid is for Ukraine. 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.
For Ukraine, the start of accession discussions will depend on how well the war-torn country can meet essential political and economic conditions.
To be admitted, potential newcomers must prove they meet the standards of democratic principles and must absorb around 80,000 pages of rules covering everything from trade and immigration to fertilizers and the rule of law.
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.
European officials have said that Ukraine has already implemented around 70% of EU rules, norms 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 possibility of the war dragging on for a long time, adding to the uncertainty.
“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. The stalled enlargement process to include the Western Balkan countries in the bloc is also on his agenda.
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