“It will strengthen Ukraine, it will strengthen Europe. It is a decision for freedom and democracy and puts us on the right side of history,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said ahead of the final announcement.
The EU’s nations have been united in backing Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s invasion with money and weapons, and adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against the Kremlin.
EU candidate status doesn’t give an automatic right to join the bloc and doesn’t provide any immediate security guarantees.
Once a country gains membership, however, it is covered under an EU treaty clause that says if a member falls victim to armed aggression, the other members are obligated to assist it by all the means in their power.
The main benefits of membership, though, are economic, since it gives access to a single market of 450 million consumers with free movement of labour, goods, services and capital.
Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, in part because of governmental corruption, shortcomings in the country’s defence establishment, and its contested borders.
Before the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO, which he has condemned for its eastward spread towards Russia’s flank. But earlier this month, he did not seem bothered by Ukraine’s determination to get closer to the EU, saying it is not a military pact and thus “we have no objections”.
The membership process can be long and tortuous.
Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for actual entry. Only one of more than 30 negotiating “chapters” has been completed in the years since, and the whole process is at a standstill as a result of various disputes between the EU and Turkey.
Similarly, several Balkan countries have been seeking to join for many years unsuccessfully.
European officials have said that Ukraine has already adopted about 70 per cent of the EU rules and standards, but they also have pointed to corruption and the need for deep political and economic reforms in the country.
“Considerable efforts will be needed, especially in the fight against corruption and the establishment of an effective rule of law,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “But I am convinced that it is precisely the [post-war] reconstruction of Ukraine that will provide opportunities to take important steps forward.”
Von der leyen said she was convinced that Ukraine and Moldova would move as swiftly as possible to implement necessary reforms.
On Friday, Putin’s spokesman said Russia was ready to agree to a peace deal with Ukraine if it accepted all of Moscow’s demands. “As far as the peace plan is concerned, it’s only possible after Ukraine fulfils all the conditions of the Russian side,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters, Interfax reported.
Negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on a ceasefire and peace deal have been effectively frozen since April. In addition to demanding that Kyiv give up its ambitions to join NATO and declare its neutrality, Russia wants to keep territory it has captured.
Separately, the US said it would provide another $US450 million ($652 million) in advanced weaponry and aid to Ukraine, the latest tranche in what has become a multibillion-dollar effort to help push back Russia’s invasion.
The new package includes patrol boats, cannon shells, rocket systems and additional ammunition to “help Ukraine defend its democracy in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. Kirby said US security assistance since the war began now totalled about $US6.1 billion.
AP, with Reuters, Bloomberg
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