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EU leaders have voted to promote Ukraine and Moldova to candidate status. Joining the bloc, though, will likely take years, with reforms to conform to European standards still required.
Leaders of the European Union on Thursday decided to make Ukraine and Moldova official candidates for membership of the bloc.
European Council President Charles Michel made the announcement after discussions among leaders of the EU's 27 member states.
The EU has been largely united in backing Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow. Just four days after Russia launched its war, Ukraine applied to become a member of the EU.
Member states were initially divided on how quickly the bloc should accept Ukraine as a member, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark among the most skeptical.
But Ukraine's bid got a boost last week when the European Commission gave its endorsement based on Kyiv's answers to a questionnaire.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the decision, calling it "a unique and historic moment" in relations with the 27-nation bloc.
"Ukraine's future is in the EU," he tweeted.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu tweeted that the decision was a "strong signal of support for Moldova and our citizens."
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tweeted his congratulations to the two countries.
"The European Council welcomes two new candidate countries to join the EU," said Scholz. "Here's to good cooperation in the European family."
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was convinced that Ukraine and Moldova would move as swiftly as possible to implement necessary reforms.
"I am deeply convinced that our decision that we have taken today strengthens us all," she said.
European Council President Charles Michel tweeted that it had been a "historic moment."
Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU," he told both countries.
Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told DW the European Union had a window of opportunity to convince Ukraine and Moldova to implement reforms required for European Union accession.
"If you lose this opportunity window because you don't give hope, then Ukraine and Moldova do not do the reforms that also we need. Getting rid of corruption, also being a rule of law country," she 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... and you will get candidate status," Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said as he arrived at the summit.
Earlier on Thursday, the European Parliament voted in favor of granting Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said the vote had been "unequivocal."
"This will show leadership, resolve and vision in context of Russia's war against Ukraine," she tweeted.
EU leaders debated Thursday a recommendation from the European Commission to grant Moldova, a country that borders Ukraine, candidate status.
Meanwhile, leaders failed to break a deadlock over a stalled membership bids from North Macedonia and Albania.
The two countries were given candidate status in 2005 and 2014 respectively, and Dimitar Kovacevski, North Macedonia's prime minister, responded to the lack of progress. "What has happened is a serious blow to the credibility (of) the European Union," Kovacevski told a news conference following the summit.
"For almost 20 years, the countries and the citizens of the Western Balkans have been waiting for the opportunity to become members of the European Union," Scholz said ahead of the summit in Brussels.
Scholz mentioned that North Macedonia had even changed its name to further its aspirations of joining the European Union.
jsi/kb (AP, AFP, dpa)