Ukraine should become a membership candidate to join the EU, commission says

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine should be welcome as a candidate country.

Kenzo Tribouillard | afp | Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday recommended that Ukraine becomes a membership candidate to join the EU — albeit on the understanding that the war-ravaged country carries out a number of important reforms.

The opinion from the commission, the executive arm of the EU, comes ahead of high-level discussions in Brussels, Belgium about Ukraine’s potential membership.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Ukraine should be welcome as a candidate country — referring to a legal term that means a nation has officially started an accession path to full membership.

Wearing a yellow blazer over a blue shirt to represent Ukraine’s colors, von der Leyen said at a press conference that the commission had one clear message for Kyiv. “And that is, yes, Ukraine deserves [the] European perspective. Yes, Ukraine should be welcomed as a candidate country.”

“This is on the understanding that good work has been done, but important work also remains to be done,” von der Leyen said.

She added that the entire process was “merit based.”

“So it goes by the book, and therefore progress depends entirely on Ukraine. It is Ukraine that has it in their hands and what could be better to shape your own future,” she said.

A long and difficult road

It is the first step in what is set to be a long and difficult road for Ukraine. Even with the commission’s backing, it will likely be years before member states are given the opportunity to approve Kyiv’s accession — to a large extent because Ukraine will have to implement economic and political reforms to comply with European rules.

The country is also battling Russia, with no end in sight to a conflict that some have warned could become a “war of attrition.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the EU’s proposal to grant candidacy status to Ukraine and said it would help Kyiv to defeat Russia.

“It’s the 1st step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our Victory closer. Grateful to
[von der Leyen] & each EC member for a historic decision,” Zelenskyy said via Twitter.

Zelenskyy said he expected EU government leaders to approve the proposal next week. Ukraine had asked to join the 27-member European Union just days after Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

The leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania, who visited Kyiv in a show of solidarity Thursday, all threw their support behind Ukraine joining the EU. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he had a “clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family.”

However, there are a number of other issues to take into account; not least the fact that several other nations are also keen to join.

What about Moldova and Georgia?

The commission also welcomed the former Soviet republic of Moldova as a candidate for EU membership.

However, Georgia, which borders Russia and was partially invaded by the Kremlin in 2008, has been tasked with meeting certain conditions first.

Moldova “is on a real pro-reform, anti-corruption and European path,” von der Leyen said.

“Georgia must now come together politically to design a clear path towards structural reform … a path that concretely sets out the necessary reforms, brings on board civil society and benefits from broad political support,” she added.

When asked whether there was a timeframe for Georgia to receive candidacy status, von der Leyen replied: “It is a huge step forward for Georgia to get the European perspective. This is a big achievement — and the door is wide open. It is up to Georgia now to take the necessary steps to move forward to come together.”

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