The European Union agreed on Thursday to put Ukraine on the path to EU membership, acting with unusual speed and unity to further distance the beleaguered country from Russia’s influence and bind it more tightly to the West.
Gathered at a summit in Brussels, the leaders of the 27 EU countries obtained the unanimous approval required to grant Ukraine candidate status. This triggers an accession process that could take years or even decades.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his gratitude and said: “The future of Ukraine is in the EU”.
“It’s a victory. We have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he said on Instagram, referring to the length of the war and the decades since Ukraine became independent after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “good day for Europe”.
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin.
The EU has also granted candidate status to the tiny country of Moldova, another former Soviet republic that borders Ukraine.
Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after the February 24 invasion of Moscow. Thursday’s decision was unusually quick for the EU and its slow approach to expansion. But the war and Ukraine’s request for an expedited review have made the case urgent.
To become a member of the EU, countries must meet a series of detailed economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles. Ukraine will need to tackle entrenched government corruption and adopt other reforms.
The European Parliament endorsed Ukraine’s candidacy hours before the start of the summit, adopting a resolution calling on EU governments to “act without delay”.
“It will strengthen Ukraine, it will strengthen Europe. It is a decision for freedom and democracy and puts us on the right side of history,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said ahead of the final decision.
EU nations have been united in supporting Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion with money and weapons, passing unprecedented economic sanctions against the Kremlin.
EU candidate status offers no guarantee of immediate security. Once a country becomes a member, however, it is covered by a clause in the EU treaty which states that if a member is the victim of armed aggression, other EU countries are obliged to help him. by all means in their power.
However, the main benefits of EU membership are economic, as it provides access to a market of 450 million consumers with the free movement of labour, goods, services and capital.
Ukraine has also long aspired to join NATO, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, in part because of the country’s corruption, shortcomings in its defense system and its disputed borders.
Before the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, which he condemned for its eastward spread towards Russia’s flank. But earlier this month he didn’t seem bothered by Ukraine’s determination to draw closer to the EU, saying it was not a military pact and that “so we don’t no objection”.
In 2013, however, Putin opposed Ukraine’s plan to sign an association agreement with the EU and pressured the then Ukrainian president to step down at the last minute. It backfired, sparking mass protests that ultimately toppled the president and brought leaders more eager than ever to bring Ukraine into the Western fold.
In the years that followed, Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and fomented a separatist uprising in the Donbass region in the east of the country.
EU leaders also agreed on Thursday to recognize a “European perspective” for another former Soviet republic, Georgia. European Council President Charles Michel said the EU would be ready to approve his candidate status once “outstanding priorities” have been addressed.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country has supported Ukraine’s European aspirations for years, said on Twitter: “This is a great moment for Europe’s unity and for the defense of its fundamental values. . The struggle for freedom continues.”
The membership process can be long and tortuous.
Turkey applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999 and had to wait until 2005 to begin talks for effective membership. The whole process has stalled due to various disputes between the EU and Turkey.
Similarly, several Balkan countries have been seeking to join the EU for many years.
EU officials said Ukraine had already adopted around 70% of EU rules and standards, but they also stressed the need for further far-reaching steps.
Leaders also discussed immediate support for Ukraine, with the European Commission set to present a proposal soon to provide new financial assistance of up to €9 billion.
Food security was also on the table as they agreed to continue working on solutions to help Ukraine export grain and other goods through “solidarity channels to circumvent a Russian blockade of Black Sea ports. .
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine