8th Jun 2023

Zelensky pleads to join EU, but is told to wait

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky joined the planery via video link from Kyiv (Photo: European Parliament)
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In a passionate address, Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky on Tuesday (1 March) spoke directly to EU lawmakers and leaders by video link from Kyiv, asking them to speed up his war-ravaged country's membership of the bloc.

Clothed in what has become his trademark green combat shirt, Zelensky appeared on screens around the plenary chamber of the European Parliament the day after he signed an official application for membership.

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"We have proven that we are exactly the same as you are," said Zelensky, as Russian troops edged closer to Kyiv and shelled civilian areas in Ukrainian cities across the country.

"Do prove that you are with us, do prove that you will not let us go, do prove that you are indeed Europeans. And then life will win over death, and light will win over darkness.".

"The EU is going to be much stronger with us," he said via an interpreter, whose voice was cracking with emotion as the Ukrainian president recounted the loss of life endured by his citizens.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen responded by saying that Ukraine and Europe are "closer than ever," and that Ukrainians belonged in Europe, but she also made it clear that the bloc won't bend its rules to offer the war-torn nation a fast-track.

"There is still a long path ahead," she said in the parliament. "We have to end this war. And we should talk about the next steps.

While starting the accession process would carry a lot of symbolism, it would have little practical benefit for Ukraine on the ground now.

In a resolution adopted on Tuesday, lawmakers called for the EU institutions to work towards granting EU candidate status to Ukraine "on the basis of merit."

Liberal Renew Europe group leader, French MEP Stéphane Séjourné, said granting candidate status is important, but that Ukraine would not join the EU for years.

"It is a rigorous process," said Séjourné. "But it is time for us to recognise that Ukrainians shed their blood in the name of freedom and democracy, and are already members of our community of destiny." .

European Council president Charles MIchel said enlargement had the capacity to divide member states.

"We know that this subject is a difficult subject because it touches on enlargement," Michel told the parliament.

"And we know that there are, within the European Union, different opinions, which can sometimes be nuanced on this subject," said Michel.

Ukraine's application has been submitted to the council which needs to agree unanimously to ask the commission for an opinion. This could take around a year. If the opinion is favourable, Ukraine can get the status of candidate country, if all EU governments agree.

In theory, Ukraine could secure candidate status as early as this year, but talks on adjusting its laws to match EU regulations would take much longer, years under normal circumstances, and perhaps even decades.

As a candidate country, Ukraine would then start negotiations on aligning its laws with the legal framework of the EU.

An accession treaty, the last stage of the process, would need to be approved by all EU governments and get the consent of the European Parliament.


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