European Commission backs Ukraine’s bid to join the bloc

Speaking in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Commission recommended “granting Ukraine candidate status. This is of course subject to the country carrying out a number of further reforms”.

“In the Commission’s view, Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and determination to uphold European values ​​and standards.”

Von der Leyen concluded his statement by saying: “We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective. We want them to live the European dream with us.

The Commission also recommended candidate status for Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, but not for Georgia, until it meets other conditions. Leaders of the 27 EU member states will meet next week for a summit to discuss his advice.

Even if member states agree that Ukraine should be a candidate nation – which is far from certain – the process of joining the EU is complicated and takes, on average, just under five years, according to think tank, The UK in a changing Europe.

During a joint press conference in Kyiv on Thursday with the EU’s three main political leaders, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the he Russian attack on his country was tantamount to an attack on the whole of Europe.

He added that the best way to demonstrate “our common and strong position” is to support Ukraine’s integration into the EU, adding that its status as a candidate for EU membership “can historically amplify the freedom in Europe and become one of the main European decisions of the first third of the 21st century.”

Zelensky said that Ukraine was ready to work towards becoming a full member of the EU: “We understand that the path to the European Union is really a path and it is not a stage. But this path must begin, and we are ready to work so that our state is transformed into a full member of the European Union and the Ukrainians have already won the right to embark on this path.”

Macron later said that the possible awarding of EU candidate status to Ukraine was the result of the Russian invasion. He was speaking in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV on Friday aboard a train leaving Ukraine.

“Ukraine should not normally be a candidate,” he said after his visit to Kyiv. “We do it because of the war and because we think it’s good.

“It’s a sign of hope, it’s a message for Ukraine to say that it is part of the European family,” he said.

While Macron said most of Western Europe supported the plan, “we have countries that are more reluctant,” he said.

The French leader added that the question of Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU will be decided at the European Council summit next Thursday and Friday.

“There is a long way to join the EU”, he added.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal expressed his gratitude for the EC’s decision. “Thanks to @vonderleyen for this decision!” he said via Twitter. “This will speed up the process of full [Ukrainian] integration into the [European] internal market and effectively support #Ukraine’s recovery according to EU standards.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia has “nothing against” Ukraine’s EU membership.

“The EU is not a military-political bloc, unlike NATO, so we have always said and I have always said that our position here is consistent, understandable, we have nothing against it,” said Putin during a panel discussion after his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

“It is the sovereign decision of any country whether or not to join economic associations, and it is up to that economic association whether or not to accept new states as members. let the EU countries decide for themselves, whether for the benefit or detriment of Ukraine is also their business,” Putin said.

What happens next?

Ukraine will now strive to meet the Copenhagen criteria, an opaque trio of requirements that the EU must meet that an applicant state has met in order to enter into proper membership negotiations. They focus on whether or not this country has a functioning free market economy, whether the country’s institutions are fit to uphold European values ​​such as human rights and the interpretation of the state of law by the EU and whether the country has a functioning and inclusive democracy.

There are also real concerns that Ukraine is far from meeting the Copenhagen criteria anytime soon. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is 122nd on its list of 180 countries. For comparison, Russia is in 136th place.

Once the country is deemed to have met these criteria, it can enter the EU’s 35 negotiating chapters, the last three of which revisit certain areas of the Copenhagen criteria.

Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, it must then be ratified in the European Parliament and by the legislative branches of government in each member state.

Ukraine formally applied for EU membership on February 28, just four days after Russia began its invasion. Zelensky said at the time that the bloc needed to “urgently admit Ukraine using a new procedure…our goal is to be with all Europeans and to be equal to them. I’m sure we We deserve it. I’m sure it’s possible.”

Before the start of the war, Zelensky had declared that Ukraine also wanted to join NATO. However, in the months that followed, he cooled the idea after it emerged the alliance was unwilling to admit Kyiv anytime soon.

“I asked them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no,” Zelensky said. “And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly the doors will remain open,” he said.

CNN’s Joseph Ataman, Camille Knight, Anna Chernova and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.

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