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EU has no 'rigid timelines' for Ukraine's membership

February 4, 2023

After hosting a key summit with the EU, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he wanted to start talks on his war-torn country's accession "this year," although the EU said Kyiv still had a long way to go.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a picture during a European Union summit in Kyiv
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a picture during a European Union summit in KyivImage: Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday there were no rigid timelines for Ukraine to join the European Union.

In response to a question about Ukraine's accession drive, she said: "There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you have to reach."

Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel led a group of 15 EU commissioners who met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at an EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv.

Air raid sirens sounded in the capital and across Ukraine as the leaders gathered for the first summit on Ukrainian soil since the Russian invasion almost a year ago.

It is also the first meeting summit of its kind since the European Council granted Ukraine candidate country status in June 2022.

After the meeting, Zelenskyy said he expected formal membership talks to start by the end of the year: "The goal is to start negotiations this year, and this is not just a purpose but a major overwhelming goal." 

"Ukraine and the EU, we are family," Michel said. "The future of Ukraine is within the European Union," he added, without commenting on the timeline.

No fast-track membership for Ukraine in EU

EU offers access to its market

While the EU supports Ukraine and reforms there, it has declined to offer a fast track to membership while Ukraine is at war. EU officials have listed several entry requirements, from political and economic stability to passing various EU laws.

The process could take years. The last country to have joined the EU was Croatia in 2013, a decade after formally applying.

The EU has called for more anti-corruption measures from Ukraine, saying it must build a credible track record over time. To this end, Zelenskyy recently announced investigations and the dismissal of some officials.

Von der Leyen acknowledged the reforms carried out by Ukraine despite the war.

"Your determination to forge ahead is impressive," she said. 

In a video address after the meeting, Zelenskyy said: "Tonight we can say that Ukraine is moving toward its goal."

"We spoke and are already speaking as members of the European community," he said. 

The EU will decide on further steps once Ukraine fulfills the conditions outlined in the European Commission's opinion on its EU membership application. The Commission is set to report on Ukraine's fulfillment of the conditions in spring 2023.

Zelenskyy call for long-range weapons

Zelenskyy also used the summit to call on his European allies to deliver long-range weapons to help repel Russian forces besieging the city of Bakhmut and occupying much of the eastern Donbas region.

"If weapons (supplies) are quickened, specifically long-range weapons, we not only will not leave Bakhmut, but we will also begin to deoccupy Donbas," he said.

EU assistance for Ukraine has reached almost  €‎50 billion ($55 billion) since the fighting started, according to officials from the bloc.

The EU is providing Ukraine with financial and humanitarian aid, and announced it is ramping up its military training mission, from an initial target of pushing 15,000 troops through the schooling to up to 30,000 troops. 

Von der Leyen also vowed to "support your fast recovery and your reconstruction."

lo, dh/sms, fb (AFP, Reuters, dpa)