5th Feb 2023

Ukraine becomes EU candidate after 120 days of war

  • EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte (Photo:
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EU leaders have granted "candidate" status to Ukraine and Moldova at a summit marked also by Western Balkan frustration.

Meanwhile, Georgia obtained promise of future candidacy, if it carries out reforms.

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The decision "strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, in the face of Russian imperialism. And it strengthens the EU. Because it shows once again to the world that we are united and strong in the face of external threats," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said.

"The Ukrainian people belong to the European family. Ukraine's future is with the EU," EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said.

The decision sent "a strong signal towards Russia in the current geopolitical context", French president Emmanuel Macron added.

"Just a few months ago I was really sceptical that we would reach this position," Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas said, referring to prior objections by enlargement sceptics, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, who changed their minds at the last minute.

"This is the least we can provide for them [the Ukrainians]," Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda said.

The Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan leaders also celebrated.

"We have been waiting for 120 days [the duration of the war] and 30 years [since Ukraine regained independence]" Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky said from Kyiv. "Now we can defeat the enemy, rebuild Ukraine, join the EU, and then we can rest," he added.

"We have a difficult road ahead, which will require a lot of work and effort", Maria Sandu, the president of Moldova said.

But for all that, the summit left a bitter taste for some Western Balkan leaders, after Bulgaria continued to uphold its veto on opening accession talks with North Macedonia in a nasty bilateral dispute on language and culture.

"It's a disgrace that a Nato country, Bulgaria, kidnaps two other Nato countries, namely Albania and North Macedonia, in the midst of a hot war in Europe's backyard with 26 other EU countries sitting still in a scary show of impotence," Albanian prime minister Edi Rama said.

Albania's bid is linked to North Macedonia's in the EU process.

"North Macedonia is a candidate for 17 years if I have not lost count, Albania since eight, so welcome to Ukraine," Rama added, noting just how long the EU enlargement process can take.

"It's a good thing to give Ukraine the status. But I hope that Ukrainian people will not make many illusions," he said.

"What has happened is a serious blow to the credibility [of] the European Union," North Macedonia's prime minister Dimitar Kovačevski said.

And even amid the unanimous support for Ukraine's candidacy, with war still raging, at least one Russia-friendly EU state also suggested they would block any more European sanctions on Moscow in future.

"At the end of the day Europe will be on the losing side of this war because of the economic problems. Our recommendation would be that we should stop the sanction process," Balázs Orbán, a senior aide to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán told Reuters in the margins of Thursday's meeting.

"Negotiations, ceasefire, peace. Diplomacy. That's our solution," he said.

EU opens door to Ukraine in 'geopolitical' summit

EU leaders will also discuss eurozone issues with European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde, as more and more leaders are worried about voters' distress at soaring inflation.

EU heavyweights pledge Ukraine 'immediate' candidate status

French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian premier Mario Draghi and Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said they support fast-tracking Ukraine becoming an official candidate to join the bloc.


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