BRUSSELS (AP) — The speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament made a vibrant plea Wednesday for his country to be named a candidate for European Union membership, a move that would bring the war-torn nation closer to the EU without guaranteeing its admittance.
Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, told EU lawmakers that failing to give Ukraine a sign of an open door would be a clear signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that “he can be totally going forward without any punishment."
European heads of state and government are expected to consider Ukraine's bid for EU candidate status at the end of June. The European Parliament already passed a resolution in favor of making Ukraine a membership candidate.
“Let’s do everything possible that on the 24th of June we’ll see a watershed day, an important day for us, and our joint great victory,” Stefanchuk said.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, is expected to deliver its opinion next week based on Ukraine's answers to a questionnaire. received in April and early May.
Ukraine currently has has an association agreement with the EU, which is aimed at opening Ukraine’s markets and bringing it closer to Europe. It includes a far-reaching free trade pact.
Roberta Mestola, the president of the EU legislature, said lawmakers will continue supporting Ukraine's effort to obtain candidate status. Metsola said reaching the step in the accession process would benefit Ukraine by furthering its integration into the region.
The 27 EU nations have been united in backing Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow since the start of the war in February.
However, leaders are divided on how quickly the EU should move to accept Ukraine as a member. Admitting a new member country requires unanimous agreement from the EU's current members.
Before Russia's war in Ukraine, the European Commission repeatedly expressed concern in recent years about corruption in Ukraine and the need for deep political and economic reforms.
The French government has made clear it thinks it’s unrealistic to expect Ukraine to join the EU any time soon, saying the process would take many years, “in fact probably several decades.”
The Ukrainian bid has received warm support in Eastern European countries, but EU officials have stressed the process could take years,
Speaking in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin backed Ukraine’s application and said he hoped EU leaders would “send the people of Ukraine a clear and positive message.”
Martin is among the EU leaders meeting at an June 23-24 summit.
But Martin says the EU “should support those looking to join in undertaking the reforms and preparations necessary.” He says Ireland’s experience is that EU “membership is transformative."
Lorne Cook contributed to this story.
Follow AP's coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press