Ukraine granted EU candidate status

EU leaders approved Ukraine and Moldova as candidate countries, marking one step in a journey that could take decades to complete

The European Union formally granted Ukraine candidate status for the EU on Thursday night as leaders of countries wanting to join the bloc warned Kyiv not to have “illusions” about membership coming anytime soon 

The 27 heads of state and government gave their approval to Ukraine being considered for EU membership in what was described a historic show of support for Kyiv.

“A historic moment. Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," Charles Michel, the European Council President, said. “Our future is together.”

Granting EU candidacy to Ukraine sends a "very strong signal" to Russia that the bloc supports Kyiv's pro-Western aspirations in the wake of Moscow's invasion, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said.

The French leader hailed the move as a sign of "a strong and united Europe" in the face of Russia's aggression against its neighbour.

The Ukrainian defence ministry wrote on Twitter: "The EU council confirmed candidate status for Ukraine. 

"It might be a day to celebrate… but our application was written in blood of our warriors and civilians. We are moving forward to the West. But our battle is ongoing on the East."

Candidate status is just one step in a journey that could take decades and will involve tough years of negotiations and painful reforms. 

The EU held summit talks with six Western Balkan countries which already have candidate status before the European Council meeting on Thursday. 

"North Macedonia is a candidate since 17 years if I have not lost the count. Albania since eight,” said Edi Rama, the prime minister of Albania.

“So, welcome to Ukraine. It's a good thing to give candidate status, but I hope the Ukrainian people will not make any illusions about it," he added. 

Albania’s progress towards membership has been blocked by EU member Bulgaria. 

Bulgaria has a dispute with candidate North Macedonia over ethnicity and the country’s  language, which Sofia insists is a regional variation of Bulgarian. 

The row has stalled Albania because the EU treats both countries as a pair in terms of their accession. 

Mr Rama said, “It is a disgrace that that one NATO country, Bulgaria, kidnaps two other NATO countries namely Albania and North Macedonia, in the midst of the hot war at the European backyards with 26 other countries sitting still, in a scary show of impotence," he said. 

“You are a mess guys, a big mess,” he told Bulgarian TV. 

After the summit failed to break the Bulgarian deadlock, Mr Rama said "So my begging to them was please don't let the EU become like the congregation of priests that were discussing the sex of the Angels while the walls of Constantinople were falling apart."

Josep Borrell, the bloc's top diplomat, said the rule requiring unanimous approval from current members "is a big problem" and suggested EU capitals should lose their veto. 

"So, we have to think (about) how we take decisions in the European Union, because we cannot continue with a single country blocking for months and months," he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has already called for the unanimity requirement to be ditched before new members join the bloc and replaced by a majority vote. He said the EU was sending a message of solidarity to Ukraine with the “historic” and “important” summit. 

The Western Balkans summit is aimed at reinvigerating the EU’s enlargement policy in a region where Russian influence can loom large.  

Candidate member Serbia, for example, has refused to follow the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. 

Kosovan president Vjosa Osmani warned, “The more the EU doesn't give a unified and a clear sign towards the Western Balkans, the more other malign factors will use that space and that vacuum.”

North Macedonian Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski said, “What is happening now is a serious problem and a serious blow to the credibility of the European Union.”

Despite the simmering discontent from Western Balkans leaders, the EU’s heads of state and government said that the decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova was “historic”. 

“Just a few months ago I was really sceptical that we would reach this position,” Kaja Kallas, prime minister of Estonia, one of Europe’s most hawkish leaders on Moscow said. 

"We must give a strong signal of support to Ukraine," said Alexander de Croo, Belgium's prime minister, before warning that the necessary reforms would take a long time

Micheal Martin, the Irish PM, said,  “Today the EU is sending a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine that you belong to the European family, that you belong to the EU.”