Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union received a major boost on Friday morning, after the bloc’s executive said it believed the country should be formally considered for candidate status in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
Speaking in Brussels, the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen said the Commission recommends “that Ukraine is given candidate status. This is of course on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further reforms.”
“In the view of the Commission, Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards.”
Von der Leyen ended her statement by saying: “We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective. We want them to live with us the European dream.”
The Commission also recommended candidate status for Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, but not for Georgia, until it meets further conditions. Leaders of the 27 EU member states will now meet for a summit next week to discuss their opinion.
Even if the member states agree that Ukraine should be a candidate nation – which is far from certain – the process to join the EU is complicated and takes, on average, just under five years to complete, according to the think tank, UK in a Changing Europe.
During a joint press conference in Kyiv on Thursday with the EU’s main three political leaders, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s attack on his country rose to an attack on all of Europe.
He added that the best way to demonstrate “our common and strong position” is by supporting Ukrainian integration into the EU, adding that its status as a candidate for EU membership “can amplify freedom in Europe historically and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century.”
Zelensky said Ukraine was ready to work to become a full EU member: “We understand that that the path to the European Union is really a path and it is not one step. 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 Ukrainians have already earned the right to begin on this path.”
Macron later said that the possible granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine was a result of Russia’s invasion. He was speaking in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV Friday on board a train leaving Ukraine.
“Ukraine normally should not be a candidate,” he said following his visit to Kyiv, “We’re doing 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 they are in the European family,” he said.
While Macron said most of Western Europe was supportive of the plan, “We have countries that are more reticent,” 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.
“The path is long to join the EU,” he added.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal expressed his gratitude for the EC’s decision. “Grateful to @vonderleyen for this decision!” he said via Twitter. “It will accelerate the process of full [Ukrainian] integration into the [European] internal market and effectively accompany the recovery of #Ukraine by EU standards.”
The Kremlin said the development required Moscow’s “increased attention.” “We all know about the intensification in Europe and discussions about strengthening the defense component of the EU. Therefore, there are different transformations that we observe,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said during a daily call with reporters.
Ukraine will now work to meet the Copenhagen Criteria, an opaque trio of requirements that the EU must be satisfied a candidate state has met in order to enter the proper accession negotiations. They focus on whether or not that country has a functioning free-market economy, whether the country’s institutions are fit to uphold European values such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law and whether the country has a functioning, inclusive democracy.
There are also real concerns that Ukraine is a long way from meeting the Copenhagen Criteria any time soon. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is 122nd on its list of 180 countries. For comparison, Russia sits in 136th place.
Once the country is deemed to have met this criteria, it can begin the EU’s 35 chapters of negotiation, the final three of which return to some areas of the Copenhagen Criteria.
Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, it must then be ratified in the EU Parliament and by the legislative branches of each member state’s government.
CNN’s Joseph Ataman, Camille Knight, Anna Chernova and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.