The European Union granted candidate status to Ukraine on Thursday to become a member of the international body.
The European Commission, which acts as the executive body of the E.U., announced its recommendation to grant candidate status to Ukraine along with Moldova and Georgia.
“Today’s Opinions are based on the Commission’s assessment in light of the three sets of criteria to join the E.U. agreed by the European Council: political criteria, economic criteria and the ability of the country to assume the obligations of E.U. membership (E.U. acquis),” the European Commission’s statement read. “The Opinions also take into account Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia’s efforts in implementing their obligations under the Association Agreements (AA), including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA), which cover significant parts of the EU acquis.”
Granting candidate status to a country requires the unanimous consent of all E.U. member nations and is the first stage in the potentially lengthy process to gain full membership.
Ukraine’s E.U. candidate status could also be seen as another measure of symbolic support for the country, which has been fighting against invading Russian forces since the end of February. In May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “this war of Russia against Ukraine was planned as a prelude to a blow to a united Europe. Greater unification is a powerful response.”
Earlier this week, Zelenskyy said Ukraine is prepared to face escalating pressure from Russia if it moves closer to E.U. membership.
In response to the news of Ukraine’s E.U. candidate status, Zelenskyy tweeted, “Sincerely commend E.U. leaders’ decision at #EUCO to grant [Ukraine] a candidate status. It’s a unique and historical moment in [Ukraine]-[E.U.] relations. Grateful to @CharlesMichel, @vonderleyen and E.U. leaders for support. Ukraine’s future is within the E.U. #EmbraceUkraine.”
Moldovan President Maia Sandu also praised the decision, tweeting, “Historic day for #Moldova! E.U. Member States have granted us the #EU candidate status. An unequivocal & strong signal of support for our citizens and #Moldova’s European future. We are grateful & committed to advancing on the path of reforms.”
Moldova is situated to the southwest of Ukraine and Russian officials have hinted at eventually moving forces across the southern part of Ukraine and into a pro-Russian separatist region of Moldova known as Transnistria.
Georgia, the third country granted E.U. candidate status, has also faced pressure from Russia in recent years. In August of 2008, Russia launched a 12-day invasion of Georgia. The Russian forces eventually withdrew from most of the country but bolstered their presence in a pair of pro-Russian separatist regions of Georgia known as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia is located in the Caucasus region, which connects eastern Europe to central Asia. Georgia is located on the southern border of Russia and is separated from the rest of Europe by the Black Sea.
Candidate status is no guarantee of eventual E.U. member status. As Axios reported, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia also have candidate status but have not attained E.U. membership. Montenegro has been in E.U. member ascension negotiations since 2012 and Serbia has been in ascension negotiations since 2014. The E.U. offered to begin ascension negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia in 2020, but those talks have not yet begun.