European Union Makes Ukraine A Candidate To Join Bloc

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European Union Makes Ukraine A Candidate To Join Bloc
European officials have supported Ukraine potentially joining the EU, but point to the need for measures to address the country's corruption.

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, leaders of the EU’s 27 nations 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.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin.

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 Moscow invaded on Feb. 24. 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 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."

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 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 obligated to assist it by all means in their power.

The main benefits of EU membership, though, are economic, since it gives access to a market of 450 million consumers with free movement of labor, goods, services and capital.

Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, in part because of the country's corruption, shortcomings in its defense establishment, and its contested borders.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.