Ukraine is now an official candidate for EU membership. On Thursday, 120 days after the Russian invasion began, European leaders at a European Council summit in Brussels decided to endorse the European Commission's recommendations and link the future of the republic to that of the bloc. In addition, the EU-27 have also granted candidate status to Moldova, while Georgia has been granted a European perspective and, after meeting a number of requirements, the possibility of endorsement of its candidacy.
Speaking to the press after the summit, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, described the decision as "historic". "It is a very strong message: both a message of unity and a message of determination in the geopolitical field," he said.
Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said "this is a good day for Europe", stressing that the agreement strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, but also the EU. "[ This decision] shows the world once again that we are united in the face of external threats," the German politician stressed on her Twitter account.
Volodymir Zelenski, for his part, welcomed the Brussels decision, calling it "a victory". "Now we will defeat the enemy, rebuild Ukraine, become a member state of the EU and then we can finally rest", the Ukrainian leader said on his Twitter account, adding that the decision would not only benefit Kiev, but Europe as a whole.
Today is a good day for Europe.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) June 23, 2022
Congratulations to President @ZelenskyyUA President @Sandumaiamd and Prime Minister @GharibashviliGe
Your countries are part of our European family.
And today’s historic decision by Leaders confirms that. pic.twitter.com/lAkv8Bq5fs
Kiev applied for EU membership four days after the start of the Russian invasion, and after receiving the Commission's approval, Brussels is now kicking off a procedure that could lead to the continent's second largest country joining the EU bloc.
This process, however, is enormously complex, requiring comprehensive reforms to bring candidate countries' legislation and systems into line with demanding European standards, in accordance with a whole series of criteria, which can take many years (Ankara, for example, has been on the bloc's doorstep since 1999), generating weariness and weariness in other candidate countries.
Even before the war, Ukraine was far from European requirements, and the granting of this status, according to French President Emanuel Macron, is a "political decision". Previously, the French president said that Kiev's accession to the EU would take "several years, probably several decades".
Moreover, Brussels insists that the level of demands will be maintained. Von der Leyen herself stated that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will have to "do their homework". Zelesnki also stressed that Ukraine is embarking on a long journey. "We hear the ode to joy. Joy, but not euphoria. Much work lies ahead," the Ukrainian president insisted in a speech, calling on the Verkhovna Rada (the country's parliament) to get down to work. In addition to defeating the Russian troops, Kiev will also have to bend to tough European demands to join the bloc.
Ukraine will be joined by Moldova, a decision welcomed by its president Maia Sandu as "a strong and unequivocal signal of support for our citizens and Moldova's European future". The leader of this small ex-Soviet republic, which, like Ukraine, is also suffering from the rebellion of its eastern territories by pro-Russian proxies, said that Chisinau is "committed to moving forward on the path of reforms".
Historic day for #Moldova🇲🇩! EU🇪🇺 Member States have granted us the #EU candidate status. An unequivocal & strong signal of support for our citizens and #Moldova's European future. We are grateful & committed to advancing on the path of reforms.— Maia Sandu (@sandumaiamd) June 23, 2022
Georgia, however, will have to wait. Brussels will decide on its case only when Tbilisi has implemented a series of demands put forward by the Commission, ranging from the problem of political polarisation in the country to the independence of the judiciary and the press, among other measures. The Caucasian republic's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili nevertheless welcomed the decision, saying that Tbilisi is ready to implement all the priorities "soon", without specifying when.
Images from Georgia last night: the EU remains hugely attractive for those outside who want a better future. We should not ignore them.— John O’Brennan 🇺🇦 (@JohnOBrennan2) June 21, 2022
Georgia has historically led this group of 3 on its path towards the EU, but has recently been weighed down by growing polarisation between the ruling Georgian Dream Party and the formation of the country's former leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been in prison for the past few months.
A few hours before the announcement, the EU-27 met with their partners in the Western Balkans, which have been at the back of the EU bloc for years, who expressed their frustration at the lack of progress and the new focus on Kiev, Chisinau and, to a lesser extent, Tbilisi. At this tense summit, marked by Bulgaria's blocking of the start of negotiations with North Macedonia (a candidate since 2005) and Albania (a candidate since 2014) and the lack of progress with the other candidates (Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro), the Balkan leaders showed their anger with Brussels.
"It is time for the EU to keep its promises before making new ones," protested the Norwegian prime minister, Dimitar Kovačevski, at an angry press conference organised together with the Serbian and Albanian leaders. "What is happening now [Bulgaria's blockade] is a serious blow to European credibility. We are losing valuable time that we don't have," continued the leader of a country that changed its name and constitution to move towards integration into Western institutions.
Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama warns that Ukraine faces a long path to the EU:— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) June 23, 2022
"North Macedonia is a candidate for 17 years if I have not lost count, Albania eight, so welcome to Ukraine"
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama went even further, calling the EU expansion process "dishonest". "North Macedonia has been a candidate for 17 years, if I haven't lost count, Albania for 8... so welcome, Ukraine," Rama ironised. "It's good to give Ukraine the status. But I hope the Ukrainian people don't have any illusions," the Albanian politician insisted.