BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders will meet Thursday to put Ukraine on a path toward membership in the bloc, signaling to the beleaguered nation — and to Russia — that they hope Ukraine reaps the benefits of being in the club, even if It’s been a decade. or more to join completely.
The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, the EU’s largest nations, as well as Romania, previewed that decision on a visit to Kyiv last week and said they supported Ukraine becoming a candidate member. Still, a handful of member states needed to be convinced that even though Ukraine was not ready to join the union, it was important to give it perspective.
The decision seen as likely on Thursday would grant Ukraine candidate status, starting what could be a long road; Turkey has been a candidate for 21 years, but is not yet a member. In a system that works by consensus, each member country has the right to veto new members.
The Netherlands and a handful of smaller members have been skeptical about giving Ukraine unconditional candidate status right away, for a variety of reasons. Dutch voters rejected the prospect of Ukraine’s EU membership in a 2014 referendum, and their leaders were hard-pressed to ignore that vote, despite widespread and sustained public support for Ukraine in its ongoing fight against the invasion of Ukraine. Russia.
Many countries are eager to prevent the bloc from growing, in part because its 27 members already find it extremely difficult to agree on vital issues such as democratic freedoms, economic reforms and the role of the courts. Ukraine’s history of corruption has also raised questions, with some EU members concerned about the bloc’s ability to absorb a country of Ukraine’s size and population, citing long-term economic and social repercussions.
Some European nations would also like to see Albania and North Macedonia, Balkan nations that have been candidates for more than a decade, admitted to the bloc before Ukraine.
However, officials and diplomats speaking at briefings ahead of the summit said the momentum was in favor of accepting Ukraine’s candidate status and working out the complicated details later, a milestone that was hard to imagine reaching earlier in the war. .
Moldova, a neighboring country that has also applied, is also likely to win the support of EU leaders.
The move is sure to rankle Russia, which has described Ukraine’s aspirations to fully align with Western institutions like NATO and the European Union as provocation and interference in its sphere of influence. It will also force the European Union to be more military oriented, expanding into a weak area of its repertoire, considering the bloc’s main focus is economics and free trade.
EU leaders are expected to announce their decision during their meeting on Thursday afternoon. On Friday they are expected to face some of the harshest economic implications of the war in Ukraine, including food and fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices.