EU makes Ukraine a membership candidate

  • Protestors in support of Ukraine stand with signs and EU flags during a demonstration outside of an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • A protestor wears a flower headband in the Ukraine colors as she participates in a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside of an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • Protesters in support of Ukraine stand with signs and flags during a demonstration outside of an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday. AP PHOTO

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, and French President Emmanuel Macron, right, speak with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. The stalled enlargement process to include Western Balkans countries in the bloc is also on their agenda... Geert Vanden Wijngaert

  • FILE - Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, June 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, Filw) Natacha Pisarenko

  • European Council President Charles Michel speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. The stalled enlargement process to include Western Balkans countries in the bloc is also on their agenda at the summit in Brussels. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. The stalled enlargement process to include Western Balkans countries in the bloc is also on their agenda at the summit in Brussels. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron, center, and European Council President Charles Michel prior to a group photo with Western Balkan leaders at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. The stalled enlargement process to include Western Balkans countries in... JOHN THYS

  • A protestor holds a yellow flower in front of an EU flag during a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside of an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, June 23, 2022. European Union leaders are expected to approve Thursday a proposal to grant Ukraine a EU candidate status, a first step on the long toward membership. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) Olivier Matthys

Published: 6/23/2022 8:30:41 PM

BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed Thursday to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership, acting with uncharacteristic speed and unity to pull the embattled country further away from Russia’s influence and bind it more closely to the West.

Meeting at a summit in Brussels, leaders of the EU’s 27 nations mustered the required unanimous approval to grant Ukraine candidate status. That sets in motion a membership process that could take years or even decades.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his gratitude and declared: “Ukraine’s future is within the EU.”

“It’s a victory. We have been waiting for 120 days and 30 years,” he said on Instagram, referring to the duration of the war and the decades since Ukraine became independent upon the breakup of the Soviet Union. “And now we will defeat the enemy.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pronounced it a “good day for Europe.”

The EU also gave candidate status to the tiny country of Moldova, another former Soviet republic that borders Ukraine.

Ukraine applied for membership less than a week after Moscow invaded on Feb. 24. Thursday’s decision was unusually rapid for the EU and its go-slow approach to expansion. But the war and Ukraine’s request for fast-track consideration lent urgency to the country’s cause.

To gain EU membership, countries must meet a detailed host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles. Ukraine will have to curb entrenched government corruption and adopt other reforms.

The European Parliament endorsed Ukraine’s bid hours before the summit started, passing a resolution that called on EU governments to “move without delay” and “live up to their historical responsibility.”

“It will strengthen Ukraine, it will strengthen Europe. It is a decision for freedom and democracy and puts us on the right side of history,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said ahead of the final decision.

The EU nations have been united in backing Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion with money and weapons, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against the Kremlin.

EU candidate status doesn’t give an automatic right to join the bloc and doesn’t provide any immediate security guarantees.

Once a country gains membership, however, it is covered under an EU treaty clause that says if a member falls victim to armed aggression, the other EU countries are obligated to assist it by all the means in their power.

The main benefits of EU membership, though, are economic, since it gives access to a market of 450 million consumers with free movement of labor, goods, services and capital.

Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, in part because of governmental corruption, shortcomings in the country’s defense establishment, and its contested borders.

Before the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, which he has condemned for its eastward spread toward Russia’s flank. But earlier this month, he did not seem bothered by Ukraine’s determination to get closer to the EU, saying it is not a military pact and thus “we have no objections.”

The EU’s leaders also also agreed Thursday to recognize a “European perspective” for yet another former Soviet republic, Georgia. European Council President Charles Michel said the EU will be ready to approve its candidate status once “outstanding priorities” are addressed.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s European aspirations for years, said on Twitter: “This is a great moment for Europe’s unity and for the defense of its basic values. The struggle for freedom goes on.”

The membership process can be long and tortuous.

Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for actual entry. Only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed in the years since, and the whole process is at a standstill as a result of various disputes between the EU and Turkey.

Similarly, several Balkan countries have been seeking without success for many years to join the EU.

European officials have said that Ukraine has already adopted about 70% of the EU rules and standards, but they also have pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms in the country.

“Considerable efforts will be needed, especially in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “But I am convinced that it is precisely the (postwar) reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities to take important steps forward.”

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


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