Samuel Petrekin and Mike Corder
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders on Thursday were to make Ukraine a candidate for membership in a 27-nation bloc, the first step in a potentially multi-year process that could further distance the country from Russian influence and bind it more closely. to the west.
Several diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted ahead of the EU summit in Brussels that Ukraine would receive the unanimous approval needed to become a candidate. Ukraine applied just days after Russia’s February 24 invasion.
“This will strengthen Ukraine, this will strengthen Europe. This is a decision in the name of freedom and democracy that puts us on the right side of history,” said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola ahead of the announcement.
A decision in favor of Ukraine on Thursday would have been uncharacteristically quick for the EU. But the biggest war in Europe since World War II and Ukraine’s request for an expedited review have reversed the bloc’s sluggish approach to expansion.
The European Parliament backed Ukraine’s bid hours before the summit, adopting a resolution urging EU governments to “act without delay” and “fulfill their historic responsibility.”
EU countries have united in supporting Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion with the help of money and weapons, passing unprecedented economic sanctions against the Kremlin.
Candidate status for EU membership does not automatically entitle you to join the bloc, nor does it provide immediate security guarantees.
However, once a country gains membership, it is subject to a clause in the EU treaty that states that if a member becomes the victim of armed aggression, other EU countries are obliged to help it by all possible means.
However, the main benefits of EU membership are economic in nature, as it gives access to a market of 450 million consumers with free movement of labour, goods, services and capital.
Ukraine, too, has long sought to join NATO, but the military alliance is reluctant to invite it, in part because of government corruption, shortcomings in the country’s defense establishment, and disputed borders.
Before the war began, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, which he denounced for its expansion eastward towards the Russian flank. But earlier this month, he appeared unfazed by Ukraine’s determination to move closer to the EU, saying it was not a military pact and therefore “we have no objection.”
To gain membership, Ukraine must fulfill a variety of detailed political and economic conditions, including adherence to certain democratic principles. The process can take years, or maybe decades.
Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start negotiations on actual membership. Over the years, only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed, and the whole process has stalled due to various disputes between the EU and Turkey.
Similarly, several Balkan countries have been unsuccessfully trying to join the EU for many years.
European officials said Ukraine had already adopted about 70% of EU rules and standards, but they also pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms in the country.
“Significant efforts will be required, especially in fighting corruption and establishing an effective rule of law,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo. “But I am convinced that it is the (post-war) reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide an opportunity to take important steps forward.”
EU leaders on Thursday also had to discuss granting candidate status to Moldova, a tiny non-NATO country that borders Ukraine.
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