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President Zelensky has signed a request for Ukraine to join the EU ‘immediately’ as troops withstand a fierce Russia onslaught but Brussels’ officials warn the process to join the block takes years.
EU officials dampened Ukraine’s hopes that suddenly becoming part of the European club could help it better weather the Russian onslaught and speed up military, financial and political support.
This comes after the European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen’s comments appeared to hold out the prospect of Ukraine being admitted.
‘They are one of us and we want them in,’ she told Euronews in an interview on Sunday, after emphasising existing EU-Ukraine cooperation.
After this on Monday, Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to the European Union ‘for the immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure’.
But Ms von der Leyen’s spokesman walked back from her statement saying, she meant Europe ‘in general’ and there was already a process for joining the bloc.
This sentiment was reiterated by the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, who said there were already longstanding disagreements among EU countries on new members joining.
Eric Mamer, Ms Von der Leyen’s spokesman, said the EU chief meant that Ukraine ‘is a European country and we want them in, meaning Europe in general’.
‘She then also specified that there is a process (for joining the EU). And I think that this is the important point,’ he added.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal tweeted that ‘the time to put it down on paper has come. Ukraine is applying for EU membership under a special procedure.’
However no such fast-track procedure exists, officials said.
Joining the bloc can be a long and complex process that often requires major reforms to reach EU standards.
They also have to prove that their finances are heading in a direction that will allow them to adopt the euro.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that any bid for membership could take ‘a lot of years’.
The European Commission said that, in any case, it can only negotiate with hopeful candidate countries on the basis of a mandate from the EU’s 27 member states – something it has not received for Ukraine.
‘At the end of the day, this is a debate at the highest political level, for the (European) Council,’ where the member states take decisions, said a commission spokeswoman, Ana Pisonero.
The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, told a group of journalists that there were already longstanding disagreements among EU countries on enlarging the bloc.
‘There are different opinions and sensitivities within the EU on enlargement,’ he told a group of journalists.
He said Kyiv would have to submit an official request to join before member states – which would have to greenlight membership unanimously – could come up with a position.
According to Mr Zelensky’s Telegram channel, the Ukrainian president signed such a request on Monday.
‘Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing,’ he said. ‘I’m sure it’s fair. I’m sure it’s possible.’
The European Union, created by six nations under a different name in 1957, has expanded in four waves over the past three decades. After Britain’s exit from the bloc in 2020, it counts 27 member states.
There are currently five countries that are candidates to join – Turkey, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania – but their bids have been stuck in limbo for years.
The last country to join the EU was Croatia, which was admitted in 2013 – after nearly a decade of negotiations and reforms.
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