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European leaders give Ukraine coveted EU candidate status

European leaders give Ukraine coveted EU candidate status

BRUSSELS — The European Union officially made Ukraine a candidate for membership Thursday, signaling in the face of a devastating Russian military onslaught that it sees Ukraine’s future as lying in an embrace of the democratic West.

While Ukraine’s accession into the bloc could take a decade or more, the decision sends a powerful message of solidarity to Kyiv and a rebuke to Moscow, which has worked for more than a decade to keep Ukraine from building Western ties.

The step was seen as almost impossible mere weeks ago, not least because Ukraine was seen as too far behind in terms of eliminating corruption and instituting economic reforms.

But the decision to nonetheless give it candidate status was another leap for European nations that have been rapidly shedding preconceptions and reservations to back Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion.

“Agreement,” Charles Michel, president of the European Council, said on Twitter. “A historic moment. Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU.”

Candidacy in the European Union, which the 27 EU leaders also granted to Moldova, is a milestone but little else. It signals that a nation is in position, if certain conditions are met, to begin a detailed, painstaking and yearslong process of changes and negotiations with the bloc, with a view to eventually joining.

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When that might happen depends on the readiness of the country in question, which must align itself institutionally, democratically, economically and legally to EU laws and norms. On average, the process has taken other countries about 10 years; Turkey has been a candidate for 21 years but is unlikely to join.

The EU began in 1952 as a free-trade bloc among a core six nations. It has grown through the years to not only include huge swaths of…

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