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,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. 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…