BRUSSELS — European leaders meeting Thursday are expected to back E.U. candidate status for Ukraine, a move that would mark a historic moment for the bloc and a major morale boost for Kyiv amid war with Russia.
Support for Ukrainian candidacy does not grant membership but would be a first step on the long and difficult road to joining the bloc. Full membership would still be years or even decades away.
Ukraine has long pushed for a path to membership, but Russia’s invasion added a new sense of urgency. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for special consideration, an idea backed by some member states and strongly opposed by others.
In a matter of months, however, Zelensky’s personal appeals, dogged Ukrainian diplomacy and support from high-profile E.U. officials and leaders have made what seemed like a long shot feel almost inevitable. Heading into Thursday’s summit, all 27 members states have expressed support for the idea of granting Ukraine candidate status, according to officials and diplomats, with conditions to be met later.
Ukraine’s push has also revived the enlargement debate more broadly. The European Commission last week recommended candidate status for Moldova, as well. Georgia will be considered after additional conditions are met. “It is time to acknowledge that the future of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia lies within the E.U,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote in an invitation letter to the meetings.