European Union leaders granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status, marking a key point on the countries’ journeys to possible EU membership. The decision came on Thursday evening during a two-day European Council meeting in Brussels.
Both countries applied for membership in the weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. Georgia also applied for membership but didn’t receive candidate status on Thursday.
“A historic moment,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted right after the decision. “Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU.”
While traditionally the path to joining the EU is long and byzantine, and can take over a decade, at least in the initial stages EU leaders are moving with record speed when it comes to the bids from Ukraine and Moldova — partly an effort to show solidarity with the countries facing the most immediate threats from Moscow.
Of course, once the initial blitzphase is over, things will grind to a halt and it will be years before either country ultimately joins the EU, as Brussels works with each to implement the myriad reforms required for membership.
Decade-long process aside, Ukraine president Zelenskiy hailed the decision as “a unique and historical moment.” Zelenskiy has spent the past few months pressing for recognition that the country is on a path to a closer relationship with Europe as he seeks moral support in countering Russian aggression.
“The message that is sent very clearly today, and we’ve just seen this with President Zelenskiy, is a strong one, consistent with what our Europe has been able to do since Day 1,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters. “Which means reacting in a fast, historic and united way through sanctions, macroeconomic, military and financial support to Ukraine, and now this political gesture.”
As for the EU, Bloomberg notes that the move opens a new era of eastern expansion that is fraught with risks. Unlike the bloc’s earlier embrace of eastern Europe’s former Communist states, the new applicants all have territorial conflicts within their borders and Russian troops on their land.
The leaders also granted Moldova candidate status, and said Georgia could win the same status if it meets certain conditions, Michel said. Commission head Ursula von der Leyen congratulated the heads of the three nations. “Your countries are part of our European family,” she tweeted.
After the initial euphoria, however, came the cold shower: “Negotiations might be tough and difficult but I would not speculate now decades or years,” Ihor Zhovkva, Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, told Bloomberg Television earlier Thursday. “Much will depend on Ukraine. Definitely much will depend on the victory of Ukraine in the war.” Zhovkva added that the pace of reforms will also be critical.
What reforms? Ukraine featured 122nd among 180 countries in last year’s ranking by the watchdog Transparency International. Ukraine is also one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
That corruption however is not a problem for the Biden admin, and according to AP, the US is prepared to provide another $450 million in military aid to Ukraine (aid which will promptly be spent on US-made weapons even as local oligarch embezzle their usual 10%).