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EC Backs Ukraine EU Bid

FILE PHOTO: European Commission President von der Leyen and Ukraine's President Zelenskiy attend a joint statement in Kyiv, June 11, 2022

The European Commission recommended on Friday that the European Union designate Ukraine as a candidate for membership, a milestone in its path from a former Soviet republic towards a developed economy in the world's largest trading bloc.

"The Commission recommends ... Ukraine is given candidate status," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference, dressed in Ukraine's national colours of a yellow jacket and blue shirt.

"Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country's aspirations and the country's determination to live up to European values and standards," she said.

While some EU countries including the Netherlands and Denmark do not support more countries becoming EU membership candidates, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the backing of France, Germany, Italy and Romania on Thursday.

In their first visit to Kyiv since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, France's Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Olaf Scholz, Italy's Mario Draghi and Romania's Klaus Iohannis said Ukraine belonged in the "European family"

The decision by the Commission, the EU executive, will pave the way for EU government leaders to sign off on it at a summit next Thursday and Friday in Brussels in what will be a morale boost for Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion.

The Kremlin says what it calls its "special military operation" was partly necessitated by Western encroachment into what it characterizes as its rightful sphere of influence.

The United States accuses Russia of seeking to check Ukraine's European ambitions. Moscow denies this.

Since Ukraine won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, pro-Russian and pro-EU politicians have vied for control.

For the EU, the path towards membership is expected to take years, requiring deep reforms tackling endemic corruption. Von der Leyen singled out corruption during a visit to Kyiv on June 11.

EU "enlargement" as a policy has also stalled since 2018. EU member states cannot agree on whether to bring other official candidates - Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey - into the bloc.

One senior eastern European diplomat was also wary of France's public support for Ukraine ahead of the EU summit on June 23/24, where leaders must endorse the Commission plan.

"I'd rather wait to see what happens at (the summit) to see it on paper and how they formulate it. EU decisions on candidate status can be taken in very different forms so I think actions and results are more important than public statements."