Ukraine's bid to join the European Union received a major boost on Friday morning, after the bloc's executive said it believed the country should be formally considered for candidate status in the wake of Russia's invasion.
Speaking in Brussels, the European Commission's President Ursula von der Leyen said the Commission recommends “that Ukraine is given candidate status. This is of course on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further reforms.”
“In the view of the Commission, Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country's aspiration and the country's determination to live up to European values and standards.”
Leaders of the 27 EU member states will now meet for a summit next week to discuss the Commission's opinion. Even if the member states agree that Ukraine should be a candidate nation — which is far from certain — the process to join the EU is complicated and takes, on average, just under five years to complete, according to the think tank, UK in a Changing Europe.
Von der Leyen ended her statement by saying: “We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective. We want them to live with us the European dream.”
During a joint press conference in Kyiv on Thursday with the EU's main three political leaders, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia's attack on his country amounted to an attack on all of Europe.
He added that the best way to demonstrate “our common and strong position” is by supporting Ukrainian integration into the EU, adding that its status as a candidate for EU membership “can amplify freedom in Europe historically and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century.”
Zelensky said Ukraine was ready to work to become a full EU member: “We understand that that the path to the European Union is really a path and it is not one step. But this path must begin, and we are ready to work so that our state is transformed into a full member of the European Union and Ukrainians have already earned the right to embark on this path.”
Macron later said that the possible granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine was a result of Russia's invasion. He was speaking in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV Friday on board a train leaving Ukraine.
“Ukraine normally should not be a candidate,” he said following his visit to Kyiv, “We're doing it because of the war and because we think it's good.
“It's a sign of hope, it's a message for Ukraine to say that they are in the European family,” he said.
While Macron said most of Western Europe was supportive of the plan, “We have countries that are more reticent,” he said.
The French leader added that the question of Ukraine's candidacy for the EU will be decided at the European Council summit next Thursday and Friday.
“The path is long to join the EU,” he added.
He also said that Moldova can also become a candidate for EU accession. The French President visited the eastern European country on Wednesday as part of a two-day trip to Moldova and Romania before his unannounced trip to Ukraine.
No change in Bosnia's accession process
Asked about the EU membership application of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Commissioner Varhelyi said the country has been in the accession process , which is a merit-based process and applies to every single candidate status but to get the candidate status it has to meet 14 priorities laid out in the European Commission's Opinion on its membership application.
“We are still waiting for the country to deliver on that,” he stressed.
If the conditions to join the EU are put for negotiation again, it would mean “giving discounts” on the accession process and the EU will not do that, the commissioner said.
Bosnia formally applied for the EU membership in 2016.