BRUSSELS – European Union leaders will meet on Thursday to put Ukraine on the path to joining the bloc, letting the embattled nation – and Russia – know that they expect Ukraine to enjoy the benefits of membership in the club will win, even if it takes ten years. or longer to fully participate.
The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, the largest EU countries, as well as Romania, previewed that decision during a visit to Kiev last week, saying they supported Ukraine’s admission as a candidate for membership. Still, a handful of member states had to be convinced that, despite Ukraine’s unwillingness to join the union, it was important to provide the perspective.
The decision considered likely on Thursday would give Ukraine candidate status, which could go a long way; Turkey has been a candidate for 21 years, but is still not a member. In a system that works by consensus, each Member State has in effect a veto over new members.
The Netherlands and a handful of smaller members have been skeptical for various reasons about granting Ukraine candidate status directly unconditionally. Dutch voters rejected the prospect of Ukraine’s EU membership in a 2014 referendum, and their leaders had struggled to ignore that vote, despite strong and continued public support for Ukraine in its current fight against the Russian invasion.
Many countries are eager to prevent the bloc from growing, in part because its 27 members already find it extremely difficult to agree on vital issues such as democratic freedoms, economic reforms and the role of the courts at times. Ukraine’s history of corruption has also cast doubts, with some EU members worried about the bloc’s ability to absorb a country the size and population of Ukraine, citing long-term economic and social ramifications. term.
Some European countries would also like to see Albania and North Macedonia, Balkan countries that have been candidates for more than a decade, admitted to the bloc before Ukraine.
However, officials and diplomats speaking at briefings ahead of the summit said the momentum was in favor of accepting Ukraine’s candidate status and working out the messy details later, a milestone hard to imagine earlier in the war. .
Moldova, a neighboring country that had also applied, was also likely to receive the support of EU leaders.
The move will no doubt irritate Russia, which has described Ukraine’s aspirations to fully align itself with Western institutions such as NATO and the European Union as provocation and interference in its sphere of influence. It will also force the European Union to become more militarily oriented and expand into a weak area in its repertoire, as the bloc is primarily focused on economics and free trade.
EU leaders are expected to announce their decision at their meeting on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, they are expected to face some of the worst economic impact of the war in Ukraine, including food and fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices.