Top European Union officials recommended on Wednesday that Ukraine be invited to begin membership talks as soon as it meets final conditions, taking Kyiv a step closer to its major strategic goal even as it struggles to repel Russia’s invasion.
“The Commission recommends that the (EU) Council opens accession negotiations with Ukraine,” said the Brussels-based European Commission.
It added the talks should formally be launched once Kyiv satisfies remaining conditions related to reining in corruption, adopting a law on lobbying in line with EU standards and strengthening national minority safeguards.
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The recommendation is an important milestone on Kyiv’s road to Western integration and a geo-political gambit for the EU as Ukraine has been fighting against a large-scale Russian invasion since February 2022.
EU leaders are expected to decide on whether to accept the Commission’s recommendation at a summit in December. Any such decision requires unanimity of the bloc’s 27 members, with Hungary seen as the main potential obstacle.
“Ukraine continues to face tremendous hardship and tragedy provoked by Russia’s war of aggression,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “And yet, the Ukrainians are deeply reforming their country, even as they are fighting a war that is existential for them.”
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister
said in reaction that Kyiv would continue its reforms. Von der Leyen said her Commission would reassess progress on the conditions next March.
‘CALL OF HISTORY’
The Commission made a similar recommendation for Moldova, a small neighbor of Ukraine that is struggling with its own tensions with Moscow.
“Moldova is firmly on the path for EU membership and we will continue working relentlessly towards this goal,” the country’s president, Maia Sandu, said in welcoming the move.
The Commission further said Georgia should receive the status of a membership candidate once it meets outstanding conditions, including Tbilisi aligning with the EU foreign policy sanctions, including against Russia for the Ukraine war.
EU officials see the Georgian government as more inclined towards doing business with Moscow and regressing on its path towards membership in the Western bloc. But they say Georgian society is mostly pro-European and wants to keep the European perspective there alive.
The Commission said the EU should also begin membership talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina “once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is achieved”.
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That is seen a much taller order as EU countries are split on Sarajevo. Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia are in favor of bringing it closer to the bloc but the Netherlands leads a critical camp highlighting what its says is democratic backsliding in Bosnia.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put enlargement back at the top of the EU’s political agenda as the geo-political rivalry between Moscow and the West erupted with a new force.
“Completing our Union is the call of history,” said von der Leyen.
“Completing our Union also has a strong economic and geopolitical logic. Past enlargements have shown the enormous benefits both for the accession countries and the EU. We all win.”