Assessing Kiev’s candidacy to join the bloc will take ‘months or even years’, Dutch PM says
The EU condemned the Russian offensive and pledged its support for Ukraine on its way to joining the European Union, but did not speed up its application to join the bloc.
Kiev submitted its EU bid in late February, with President Volodymyr Zelensky asking Brussels to speed up its assessment of the bid given the ongoing fighting in his country.
The bloc’s leaders debated the issue for hours on the first day of the European Council summit, convened at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, issuing a joint statement on Friday evening.
They condemned what they described as the “unprovoked and unjustified military aggression” against its neighbor, and asked Moscow “immediately and unconditionally” withdraw its forces from Ukrainian territory.
Board members are committed to “continue to provide coordinated political, financial, material and humanitarian support” in Kyiv.
As for accelerated accession to the EU, they “recognized the European aspirations and the European choice of Ukraine”, and said that the European Council had acted “quickly” by forwarding Kiev’s candidacy to the European Commission for its opinion.
However, this is only the first step in what is a long bureaucratic process to join the EU, with the declaration containing no indication that Ukraine would be allowed to take any shortcuts along the way.
During a press briefing after the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte clarified that the commission’s assessment of Kyiv’s candidacy would take time – “Months, maybe years.” Brussels had nonetheless processed the request with unprecedented speed, he said.
Despite calling the Ukrainian people “heroic,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda admitted he was “Impossible to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine today”.
“We were divided” Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said of the summit. The majority of the bloc’s leaders agreed that the Ukrainians needed a “strong political message that they belong to our European family”, but there were also many among the delegates who were “Still debating procedures” whereby this could be adopted, he added.
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, after a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Proposals negotiated by Germany and France had attempted to regularize the status of these regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was unprovoked and has denied claims it planned to retake the two republics by force.