Ukraine and Moldova should get candidate status but Georgia may have to wait, EU executive says
*Updated with comments from Volodymyr Zelensky and Maia Sandu
The European Union should grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, bringing them closer to EU membership, while Georgia should make further efforts, the EU said on Friday (17 June). European Commission in a long-awaited opinion on the future enlargement of the Union.
Ukraine applied for EU membership just days after the Russian invasion which began on February 24. Georgia and Moldova have followed suit for fear of aggression and influence from Moscow.
“Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and determination to comply with European values and standards”European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.
“We have an important message to convey: yes, Ukraine deserves a European perspective. It must be welcomed as a candidate country, it being understood that a major effort remains to be made”said Ms Von der Leyen.
She made the announcement wearing the colors of Ukraine, a yellow blazer over a blue shirt.
This decision comes at the end of a very symbolic debate which will have lasted a month and during which several senior officials and leaders of the EU spoke out in favor of the launch of the procedures allowing Ukraine to one day join the bloc as a full member.
“At the same time, we know that there is still work to be done”said Ms von der Leyen, outlining four areas of reform in which Ukraine will need to fulfill certain conditions in order to continue with the accession process.
These are the rule of law, the “establishment of the institutions necessary for the proper functioning of the judicial system”accelerating the selection of Constitutional Court judges and members of the judiciary, legislation on oligarchs, and anti-corruption efforts.
With regard to fundamental rights, Ms von der Leyen underlined that Ukraine has implemented 80% of the recommendations of the Venice Commission, but that it still lacks the adoption of the law on national minorities.
“The whole process is merit-based. It takes place according to the rules and therefore progress depends entirely on Ukraine”explained Ms Von der Leyen, as a message to the Member States who are generally more skeptical of EU enlargement.
“Ukrainians are ready to die, and we want them to live” the European dream, she continued.
Never before has an opinion been delivered so quickly on an EU bid, giving EU leaders around a week to study the document before deciding on the issue at a crucial EU summit June 23 and 24.
The opinion is expected to serve as a basis for European leaders, who are expected to approve Kyiv’s candidate status subject to strict conditions, even though membership may take years or even decades.
The launch of accession negotiations requires the unanimous approval of all member states of the bloc.
Ukraine leads the way
The European Commission’s decisions also come after France, Germany, Italy and Romania said on Thursday (16 June) they were in favor of Ukraine getting ” immediately “ candidate status, which was seen as a significant indication of the outcome of the EU leaders’ discussion next week.
Their rhetoric, however, exposed the gap between words and actions, with each of the three leaders having been criticized in recent weeks for their commitment.
Indeed, Paris is criticized for having been too lenient towards the demands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Berlin for having been too slow to provide Ukraine with the heavy weapons it urgently needs. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking alongside the four leaders on Thursday, pledged Ukraine was ready to do what it takes to become a full member of the European Union.
“This is the first step on the road to EU membership which will certainly bring us closer to our victory”Mr. Zelensky wrote on social media on Friday, adding that he was ” grateful “ to the President of the European Commission, and to “every member of the Commission for this historic decision”.
Some EU member states, including the Netherlands and Denmark, remain skeptical about the possibility of more neighboring countries becoming candidates for EU membership.
At the same time, three of the four Western Balkan countries applying for EU membership signed a joint declaration with Ukraine in support of its EU membership bid.
The statement of support comes as EU leaders are due to meet their Western Balkan counterparts on June 23, just before discussing the European Commission’s recommendation.
Moldova now, Georgia “later”
At the same time, the European Commission also recommended granting Moldova the status of candidate for EU membership, although the country should carry out reforms.
“For the first time since independence, it is truly on a path favorable to reform, the fight against corruption and Europe”said Ms Von der Leyen.
“Of course, Moldova still has a long way to go […]but we believe the country has the potential to live up to the demands.”she added, specifying that this would require “major improvements” in the economy and public administration, on the rule of law, the fight against corruption and the fight against organized crime.
Moldova, a country of 2.6 million inhabitants, is one of the poorest countries in Europe and has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu hailed the European Commission’s decision on Telegram as a “important moment for the future of the Republic of Moldova”which would be “the hope our citizens need”adding that “We know the process will be difficult, but we are determined to follow this path”.
For both Ukraine and Moldova, further progress on accession will be conditional on the fulfillment of commitments made in various policy areas.
The EU executive is expected to assess the situation by the end of the year, according to senior EU officials.
The country was granted the ” perspective “ European Union until it fulfills the conditions set out by the Commission to obtain EU candidate status.
“We would like to see an end to political polarization in the country, […] we need the cooperation of all parties in the country and the execution of the agreement that was reached with the collaboration of the European Union”said Oliver Varhely, European Commissioner for Enlargement.
Internally, Georgia’s ruling party has come under intense pressure from opposition parties to follow Ukraine’s lead, seen as an opportunity to advance its own European aspirations. , a goal enshrined in the country’s constitution.
However, this country aspiring to a European future has been plagued by political crisis in recent years, with Western concerns over Georgia’s backsliding on its commitments to democracy and cross-party talks by European Council President Charles Michel last year.
The Commission said it would monitor Georgia’s progress and assess the situation by the end of the year.