European leaders have formally accepted Ukraine and Moldova as candidates to join the EU, in a “historic moment” which will also serve as a blow to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Although it could take the two countries more than a decade to qualify for membership, the decision at a two-day EU summit is a symbolic step which signals the bloc’s intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union.
“A historic moment,” European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted. “Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” he said, adding: “Our future is together.”
The European Parliament endorsed the bids hours before the summit started, passing a resolution that called on EU governments to “move without delay” and “live up to their historical responsibility”.
Ahead of the final announcement, the parliament’s president Roberta Metsola said the move would “strengthen Ukraine” and “strengthen Europe”, adding: “It is a decision for freedom and democracy and puts us on the right side of history.”
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the move, which he called “a unique and historic moment” in his country’s relations with the union. “Ukraine’s future is in the EU,” he said.
Mr Zelensky’s chief of staff was reported as saying that Kyiv would do everything it could to quickly implement a plan allowing negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the EU to begin.