By SAMUEL PETREQUIN and MIKE CORDER
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union agreed on Thursday to put Ukraine on a path to EU membership, acting with unusual speed and unity to further distance the embattled country from Russian influence. and bind it more closely 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 sets in motion a process that could take years or even decades.
The EU has also granted candidate status to the tiny country of Moldova, another former Soviet state neighboring Ukraine.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “good day for Europe”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his gratitude and said: “The future of Ukraine is in the EU”.
Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after the February 24 invasion of Moscow. Thursday’s decision was unusually quick for the EU. But the war and Ukraine’s request for an expedited review have made his 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, among others, will also have 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” and “assume their historic responsibility”.
“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 announcement.
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 does not automatically entitle you to join the bloc and 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 due to government corruption, shortcomings in the defense establishment of the country 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”.
The membership process can be long and tortuous.
Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999 and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for effective membership. Only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed in the ensuing years, and the whole process has stalled due to various disputes between the EU and Turkey.
Similarly, several Balkan countries have been trying unsuccessfully for many years to join the EU.
EU officials said Ukraine had already adopted around 70% of EU rules and standards, but they also pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms in the country.
“Considerable efforts will be needed, particularly in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “But I am convinced that it is precisely the (post-war) reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities for making important steps forward.”
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine