The heads of state and government of the European Union recognized this Thursday that the fate of Ukraine is linked to that of the common bloc. The 27 decided at a summit in Brussels to show their eastern neighbor the utmost support by granting it candidate country status for EU membership. The gesture is steeped in symbolism for a state war-torn since the Russian-orchestrated invasion exactly 120 days ago, and marks the start of a very long and complex process to become a full member of the Union family. . Moldova, which followed in the footsteps opened by Kyiv shortly after the start of the competition, has also received the same recognition.
“Agree. The European Council has just decided on EU candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova,” announced Council President Charles Michel via social media he added, “Our future is to be together.”
In so doing, the EU is taking up the gauntlet run by the European Commission, which recommended the move a week ago, albeit under the requirement that Kyiv implement far-reaching reforms in areas ranging from the independence of the judiciary to fighting oligarchs’ economic control and corruption in the country .
The text of the conclusions adopted this Thursday by the Heads of State and Government in the European Council, a well thought-out written formula agreed by the Heads of State and Government and which serves to set the political course of the Union, calls on the European Commission to report on progress Ukraine. “The Council will decide the further steps once all these conditions are met,” adds the draft text, to which EL PAÍS had access.
If it does comply, which could take years (Turkey was touched with the same magic wand more than two decades ago in December 1999, far away), Ukraine would be the largest country in the Union by area, a true agrarian power, albeit strong at the moment affected by the Russian invasion. And it would add 44 million residents to the bloc, according to the pre-war census.
The road could be very long, Kyiv still has many milestones to overcome in order to even start negotiations to join the club, but for Ukraine, which years ago ordained its turn to the West and in which the majority of the population is pro-European is, polls say, it’s a symbolic and backup step.
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The decision of the leaders of the 27 is also a “gesture of confidence” towards Ukraine, stressed Vsevolod Chentsov, Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU; a nod that he can deliver the reforms he demands and that he is on the right track.
But Kyiv reiterates that it needs more weapons to resist Russian aggression, and sources in the cabinet of Volodimir Zelenski – who has been engaged in a marathon phone call with his EU counterparts for two days to force his candidacy – are slipping The 9,000 million euros that Brussels plans to unleash as new macro-financial assistance to Ukraine is an amount well below its needs. The director of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, has estimated the amount Ukraine needs to repair the damage caused by the Russian invasion at one billion euros.
With the war very much concentrated in the Donbass and becoming increasingly bloody, it is also important for the Zelenskyi government to pave the way for the necessary reforms in the areas of the judiciary, anti-corruption and good governance as soon as possible. With a war that could stall and drag on, the Ukrainian leader, an outward symbol of resistance to Russian aggression, could be hit when fatigue and boredom set in. The candidacy and work to comply with the reforms give him bellows.
The debate in Brussels was not easy. Countries like Austria, which until recently had opposed Ukraine’s candidacy, have reconsidered and revised their reluctance, instead demanding explicit mention of the Western Balkan countries. The leaders of that region have starred in a tense morning in Brussels: after a meeting with the Twenty-Seven that served as a prelude to the summit, the leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia have vented their anger over an accession process Expressed years faltering as they watch Ukraine and Moldova fast track towards the club. Vienna, for example, wants “the EU’s focus not just to be directed east and bypasses the Balkans,” explains a diplomatic source familiar with the talks.
In January, before the invasion, Ukraine’s candidacy seemed a long way off. For Kyiv, however, it was a matter of survival. A few days after Putin started the large-scale war, President Zelenskyy submitted the request. And from there everything went smoothly for the Ukrainian leader, although behind the scenes he has encountered reluctance from countries closer to Moscow – like Hungary – and from others who wanted clearer terms and requirements. Granting candidate status to the war-ravaged country, where Putin-ordered invasion continues to wreak havoc, Zelenskyy reiterated the historic move means that the EU is responding to the “longing of Ukrainian citizens to be part of the European family.” .