BRUSSELS – The European Commission recommended on Friday that Ukraine be granted candidate status in the country’s bid to join the European Union, the first formal step in a process that normally lasts more than a decade.
He also recommended a similar status for Moldova – which applied for bloc membership shortly after Ukraine, spurred by concerns over Russian threats in the region – but not for neighboring Georgia, which has not. not been deemed ready for EU application.
The decision on Ukraine took on a more inevitable air on Wednesday, when the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania announced their support for Ukraine’s path during a visit in Kyiv. And Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, opened the meeting of European Commissioners in Brussels on Friday wearing a blue shirt and a yellow blazer, the national colors of Ukraine.
But Friday’s Commission recommendation is only the first step on a long road. The final decision will be in the hands of European Union leaders who will meet on June 23 and 24 in Brussels to tackle the thorny issue.
And the Commission pointed out that the candidate statuses of Ukraine and Moldova are linked to overhauls of the rule of law, justice and the fight against corruption. “The opening of accession negotiations is more advanced,” Oliver Varhelyi, the bloc’s top enlargement official, told reporters. “Today is not about that. Once the conditions are met, it will be necessary to come back and reflect.
The bid is a moral boost, EU officials said, meant to motivate candidate countries to undertake further reforms. The measures Ukraine is required to take include strengthening the fight against corruption and against oligarchs, legislation on the selection of judges to the highest court in the country, the protection of minorities and a new law on the media. The country’s endemic corruption problems are of great concern, as well as any setbacks it will face after the war.
The Commission said it would assess progress at the end of this year, leaving the war-torn country less than seven months to introduce a number of complex and costly reforms.
European Union member countries are also divided between those who believe that even if Ukraine is not technically ready to begin the sweeping changes needed to join the bloc of 27, it should still be granted the status of candidate as a significant gesture of support in his defense against Russian aggression. This, supporters say, will allow Ukraine’s leaders to illustrate that their nation has a bright future after the war ends, and will also begin to bring the country into the bloc, which will fund much of any reconstruction.
Other countries would prefer Ukraine to be given a kind of ‘candidate light’ status: a promise, but with reservations and benchmarks to be met along the way, recognizing that its path to full membership will be very probably very long. These nations believe that this approach is not only more realistic, but also demonstrates integrity towards Ukraine rather than giving false assurances.
“In the Commission’s view, Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and determination to comply with European values and standards,” von der Leyen said on Friday, adding that Ukraine had already around 70% of EU rules, standards and norms in place.
“We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” she added. “We want them to live the European dream with us.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the commission’s decision and said it would help his country’s efforts to stave off Russian aggression. “This is the first step on the road to EU membership which will certainly bring our victory closer,” he said. wrote on Twitter.
Tess Felder contributed reporting from London.