The European Union’s executive has recommended opening formal membership talks with Ukraine, as soon as it meets final conditions, in a major show of support for Kyiv in its battle against Russia.
“This is a strong and historic step that paves the way to a stronger EU with Ukraine as its member,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted on social media on Wednesday.
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“Our country must be in the European Union. Ukrainians deserve it both for their defence of European values and for the fact that even in times of full-scale war, we keep our word,” he said.
The European Commission, which also paved the way for discussions to begin with Moldova, recommended that the talks should formally be launched once Ukraine satisfies remaining conditions related to reining in corruption, adopting a law on lobbying in line with EU standards and strengthening national minority safeguards.
“Today is a historic day,” commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
“Ukraine continues to face tremendous hardship and tragedy provoked by Russia’s war of aggression, and yet the Ukrainians are deeply reforming their country.”
Ukraine launched its bid to become part of the EU after Moscow’s invasion in February 2022 and was officially named a candidate to join in June that year.
Former Soviet republic Moldova had applied at the same time as Ukraine.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu thanked Brussels and said her country was “firmly on the path for EU membership and we will continue working relentlessly towards this goal”.
The EU’s 27 leaders still have to sign off on the recommendations at a summit in December, and the membership process is contingent upon the completion of required reforms with regular progress assessments as part of a long and vigorous process.
Other EU hopefuls
Brussels also suggested member states grant Georgia candidate status.
“I rejoice with the people of Georgia,” Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili wrote online.
Balkan country Bosnia and Herzegovina did not get approval yet again, having come short on expected membership criteria, von der Leyen said.
Other EU hopefuls include Turkey, which began accession talks in 2005, but those are at a dead end. Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia are also stuck in negotiations.
The war in Ukraine has breathed new life into the EU’s stalled push to take on new members as the bloc looks to keep Russian and Chinese influence at bay.
The commission in June last year set Kyiv seven reform benchmarks to complete, including tackling corruption and curbing oligarch power, before talks should start.
Von der Leyen said Ukraine had now completed “well over 90 percent of the necessary steps”.
The positive signal from the EU provides a vital boost to Ukraine at a difficult time. However, whether EU countries will be ready by December to approve the talks with the war-torn country of more than 40 million people is uncertain.