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European Union leaders on Thursday were set to make Ukraine a candidate for membership in the 27-nation bloc, the first step in a potentially yearslong process that could pull the embattled country further away from Russia’s influence and bind it more closely to the West. Several diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, predicted Ukraine would receive the unanimous approval required for candidate status. Ukraine submitted its application just a few days after Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
“It will strengthen Ukraine, it will strengthen Europe. It is a decision for freedom and democracy and puts us on the right side of history,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said ahead of the announcement.
A decision in Ukraine’s favour on Thursday would be uncharacteristically rapid for the EU. But the biggest war in Europe since World War II and Ukraine’s request for fast-track consideration upended the bloc’s go-slow approach to expansion.
EU candidate status doesn’t give an automatic right to join the bloc and doesn’t provide any immediate security guarantees.
Once a country gains membership, however, it is covered under an EU treaty clause that says if a member falls victim to armed aggression, the other EU countries are obligated to assist it by all the means in their power. The main benefits from EU membership, though, are economic, since it gives access to a market of 450 million consumers with free movement of labor, goods, services and capital.
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