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(Bloomberg) -- Leaders of the European Union are planning to grant candidacy status to Ukraine, according to a draft joint statement seen by Bloomberg, in a symbolic victory for a nation that has spent the past four months trying to fend off Russia’s invasion.
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The decision means that all 27 members agreed to grant Ukraine the first step on a years-long and difficult path to joining the bloc. The leaders plan to say that EU states will decide on the next steps of the process after Ukraine fully meets a long list of conditions related to the rule of law, justice and anti-corruption set out by the European Commission.
EU leaders also plan to grant candidate status to Moldova and tell Georgia that it can achieve the same status after it meets specific conditions.
“The future of these countries and their citizens lies within the European Union,” the leaders plan to say. The draft statement needs to be formally approved by leaders and could still change.
The leaders’ move is particularly weighty for Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has campaigned vigorously for recognition that the country is on a path to a closer relationship with Europe as he seeks moral support in countering Russian aggression.
European nations are feeling new pressure from Moscow, which has been slashing gas deliveries on its main pipeline to Europe. Germany is preparing to trigger the next stage of its emergency gas plan, a decision that may mean passing along higher prices to industry and households.
Read More: Ukraine Poised to Get Backing of EU States on Membership Path
At a meeting of EU ambassadors Monday, several member states stressed the need for Ukraine to meet the conditions set out by the commission before accession talks progress further beyond the candidate status. Others were keen that the potential new candidates are not seen to get preferential treatment over nations in the Western Balkans, whose progress toward membership has stalled.
The commission has made clear that the accession process will follow the same criteria and rules for all candidates. There’s no existing fast-track path to speed up the membership criteria. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.
Steps that Kyiv will need to take, according to people familiar with the issue, include implementing legislation on a selection procedure for judges of the Constitutional Court, strengthening the fight against corruption, and ensuring that anti-money laundering legislation is in compliance with the standards of the Financial Action Task Force.
The EU’s executive arm has said it will report back on those steps by the end of the year.
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