The European Commission will meet on Friday to give its fast-tracked opinion on Ukraine’s bid for EU candidacy, a day after the bloc’s most powerful leaders visited Kyiv as it battles Russia’s invasion.
The opinion will serve as a basis for discussion at next week’s European Union summit, where leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status with strict conditions, though membership may take years or even decades.
Never before has an opinion been given so quickly on EU candidacy, which must be approved by all 27 member states.
France, Germany, Italy and Romania are in favour of Ukraine receiving “immediate” candidate status, French President Emmanuel Macron said during an official visit to Kyiv on Thursday.
Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi arrived in Ukraine by train and were joined by Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis before meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been lobbying allies for support.
“The most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the EU,” Draghi said at a joint press conference.
Scholz said Ukraine “belongs in the European family” and that Berlin would continue to send Kyiv weapons “for as long as it is needed”.
Zelenskyy said Ukraine was ready to put in the work to become an EU member. He also called for EU states to help Kyiv meet its “essential needs in the field of defence”.
France announced it would send six Caesar self-propelled howitzers to add to the 12 already deployed on Ukraine’s eastern front. Germany’s Scholz has been repeatedly criticised for his cautious stance towards delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine, before announcing in April that it would deliver anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Macron had warned Ukraine’s EU membership would be a lengthy process and instead pushed for a “European political community” that would be open to non-EU members, like Ukraine and the United Kingdom, that wish to contribute to European security.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her second trip to Kyiv since the start of Russia’s attack on Saturday, reminded Zelenskyy that much was still needed to be accomplished.
“You have done a lot in strengthening the rule of law, but there is still a need for reforms to be implemented, to fight corruption, for example,” she told a joint news conference with Ukraine’s leader.
Joining the EU is a process that usually takes years and requires meeting strict criteria – from economic stability to rooting out corruption to respecting human rights.
Despite reservations among some member states, EU leaders are expected to approve Ukraine’s candidate status at a summit on June 23-24, though with stern conditions attached.
Zelenskyy told von der Leyen during her visit that “all of Europe is a target for Russia, and Ukraine is just the first stage in this aggression”.
“This is why a positive EU response to the Ukrainian application for membership can be a positive answer to the question of whether the European project has a future at all,” he said.