Ukraine accepted as European Union candidate in historic move prompted by Russia's invasion

·4 min read
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 11, 2022.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 11, 2022.AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File
  • The European Union accepted Ukraine on Thursday as a candidate to join the 27-nation bloc.

  • European Council President Charles Michel called the decision "a historic moment."

  • Ukraine filed its application just days after Russia invaded in late-February.

The European Union on Thursday officially accepted Ukraine as a candidate country to join the 27-nation bloc, a historic move sparked by Russia's ongoing war.

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, announced the decision on Twitter, calling it "a crucial step" for Ukraine's path to EU membership.

"Sincerely commend EU leaders' decision at #EUCO to grant [Ukraine] a candidate status," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. "Ukraine's future is within the EU."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a tweet said the decision "strengthens us all."

"It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, in the face of Russian imperialism. And it strengthens the EU. Because it shows once again to the world that we are united and strong in the face of external threats," she said.

Earlier on Thursday, the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling on member states to grant Ukraine its candidate status "without delay."

Despite the announcement and the sense of urgency induced by Russia's military offensive, Ukraine faces a long road ahead before it actually becomes an EU member state. It can take years for countries to complete the process and become full members. For example, Croatia — the most recent addition to the 27-country bloc — applied to join the EU in 2003 but was not a member country until 2013. A number of countries have also been candidates for years — Albania, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.

In a statement, the European Parliament said "there is no 'fast-track' for EU membership and that accession remains a merit-based and structured process, which requires EU membership criteria to be fulfilled and is dependent on the effective implementation of reforms."

Von der Leyen previously said Ukraine "has already implemented roughly 70% of [EU] rules, norms and standards," but added that "important work remains to be done, on the rule of law, oligarchs, anti-corruption and fundamental rights. The process is merits-based. So progress depends entirely on Ukraine."

Last week, the European Commission — the bloc's executive branch — recommended that member states vote in favor of Ukraine becoming a candidate country.

"We recommend to give Ukraine the candidate status, on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of important reforms," von der Leyen said at the time. "Ukraine has clearly shown commitment to live up to European values and standards."

Zelenskyy applied for his country to join the EU in late February, just days after Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion.

Meanwhile, fighting in eastern Ukraine has become a slow-moving and bloody campaign, filled with shifting frontlines, counterattacks, and artillery exchanges. NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the war could drag on for years.

Granting Ukraine EU candidate country status provides a morale boost to Kyiv after months of brutal warfare that's devastated Ukrainian cities and led millions to flee the country. Though Moscow has sought to control Ukrainian politics for years, Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent days downplayed the prospect of Ukraine joining the bloc. "It's their sovereign decision to join economic unions or not," Putin said in St. Petersburg last week, per BBC News.

Moldova, another former Soviet republic, was also granted EU candidate status on Thursday. After Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, there were concerns that Putin could expand the war into Moldova. Roughly 1,500 Russian troops are stationed in Transnistria, a Moscow-backed separatist territory that's considered to be part of Moldova by the international community. Transnistria and Ukraine share a 250-mile border.

Celebrating the EU's decision, Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Thursday tweeted, "Historic day for #Moldova! EU Member States have granted us the #EU candidate status. An unequivocal & strong signal of support for our citizens and #Moldova's European future. We are grateful & committed to advancing on the path of reforms."

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