By John Follain / Bloomberg News
KYIV, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to the European Union to fast-track membership for Ukraine. But despite enthusiastic support from several member states, the country faces an arduous process that typically stretches out for years.
Zelenskyy’s request could also antagonize Russian President Vladimir Putin as it highlights his strong push to align Ukraine with Europe and the Western alliance. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application process lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.
“I am sure it is fair. I am sure we deserve this,” Zelenskyy told reporters Monday at a briefing at the presidential palace. “I am sure that all this is possible.”
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a tweet that the country is “applying for EU membership under a special procedure” and “the time to put it down on paper has come.”
Accession requires the candidate country to adopt established EU law as well as to enact reforms — including to its judicial and economic systems — to meet the bloc’s criteria.
More than 30 policy areas are examined and negotiated to make sure the nation is prepared to join — and moving on to the next so-called chapter requires the consent of all 27 member states. The move also requires the unanimous approval of all EU members, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Monday after talks with her Slovenian counterpart in Berlin that “the EU has always been a house with open doors” and “Ukraine is a part of the European house.”
However, she added that “accession is not something that can be completed in a few months, but involves an intensive and far-reaching process of transformation.”
European Council President Charles Michel said in an interview on French television station BFM Monday that the accession debate would take place and that he wanted strong ties with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews that “we want them in the European Union.”
The Czech Republic and Slovakia also expressed their support for Ukraine’s efforts to join. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said that “although I am a supporter of standard procedures, we are not in a standard situation now.”
“We must make it clear that Ukraine is welcome in the European community of democracies,” the CTK news agency quoted him as saying.
Slovak President Zuzana Caputova said in a tweet that she supports Zelenskyy’s “call for the EU to make a decisive step towards Ukraine’s EU membership,” adding that “the time is now.”
While the application process is complicated and typically lasts a long time, if the member states want to accelerate it then it could be possible, according to one official familiar with the procedure, who asked not to be identified because any negotiations would be private.
“The path toward membership should be defined and shouldn’t be limited to polite recommendations to reform,” said Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, who has been lobbying for Ukraine’s candidate status. “I hope actual negotiations could start sooner than otherwise.”