Updated 10 minutes ago
Lauren Boland reports from the European Parliament in Brussels
THE EU HAS officially named Ukraine as a candidate for EU membership in a historic decision for the bloc.
The country will now be entitled to begin the complex process of fulfilling the EU’s criteria to become a fully-fledged member.
The EU Council, which is comprised of the heads of state and government of the 27 member countries – including Taoiseach Micheál Martin – has been meeting in Brussels to discuss the potential enlargement of the union after applications from Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
Speaking at a press conference on the announcement, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission – which recommended that the Council accept Ukraine’s application – described the decision as a “defining moment and a very good day for Europe”.
She said there could be “no better sign of hope for the citizens of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in these troubled times”.
European flag over Maidan Square in Kyiv tonight. A joyous moment to celebrate 🇺🇦 receiving candidate status to join EU. Rare great news amid the terrible war and sacrifices of heroic Ukrainians. 🇪🇺🤝🇺🇦
— Katarina Mathernova 🇪🇺 (@kmathernova)
“Of course, the countries all have to do homework before moving to the next stage of the accession process, but I am convinced that they will move as swiftly as possible and work as hard as possible to implement the necessary reforms,” she added.
“I’m deeply convinced that our decision that we’ve taken today strengthened us all. It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in the face of Russian aggression and it strengthens the European Union because it shows once again to the world that the European Union is united and strong in the face of external events.”
It was expected that Ukraine and Moldova would be approved for formal candidacy, with Georgia offered a ‘European perspective’ while working onset out by the European Commission.
The meeting was largely in agreement on the status of those three countries but less clear on how it would proceed in relation to other western Balkan states, The Journal understands.
A source said that there were differing opinions among members on how to move forward on bids from current candidates that have been seeking entry for years but which are yet to fulfil all the EU’s criteria in negotiations.
The Council may try to extend a positive signal towards certain countries, particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Earlier today, the Taoiseach said it is taking “too long” for western Balkan countries to be admitted into the European Union.
Ahead of a meeting between the European Council and western Balkan leaders, Martin said including those countries would be an effective counter to “manipulation” in the region.
The Taoiseach and the heads of other member states met the leaders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia this morning to discuss their efforts to join the EU and the impacts of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters, the Taoiseach described the Council meeting as “significant” and “historic”.
“We in Ireland know what the European Union means, being a member of the European Union. It’s the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s decision to join the European Union, probably the single most transformative decision and event that happened in modern Irish history,” Martin said.
“I always cannot comprehend how we could ever refuse accession to other member states, because we know that membership itself can be transformative and can spur on reforms, can spur on economic development,” he said.
Ukraine is going through a terrible, terrible, inhumane war. Their cities and towns have been leveled, the people have been terrorised, it’s the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War Two.
“I think today the European Union is sending a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine that you belong to the European family, you belong to the European Union, and the decision will be taken today to facilitate your application and you will have candidate status to join the European Union.”
The Taoiseach said he hoped that “progress” can be made for Western Balkan countries keen to join the EU, particularly North Macedonia and Albania.
“There are issues and our challenges there. My own view is to facilitate a more rapid and accelerated enlargement process in terms of the neighborhood,” Martin said.
“It’s better for the European Union, it’s better for political stability, but above all, it gives those countries in the neighborhood a much better opportunity to develop economically and socially.
“The delays are too long. It’s taking too long for countries like North Macedonia and Albania,” he said.
“Very often Europe complains about manipulation in the neighborhood. The most effective geopolitical counterpoint to that manipulation is to embrace and bring people in.
“As we know ourselves, membership brings its own momentum in terms of economic development and reforms.”
On the western Balkans, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “the most important question is that we all work together and that the states of the western Balkans will have the opportunity to become members of the EU”.
“They’ve worked so hard and it is our common task to make this something that will happen.”
Near the Council building, Ukraine supporters gathered to call for the EU’s backing, raising chants of “Ukraine is European”.
President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola said that naming Ukraine as a candidate will “strengthen” the bloc and that it would be “wrong” not to allow Ukraine to take the next step towards candidacy.
Speaking on arrival at the Council meeting, Metsola said there are “no easy answers or easy decisions – rest assured that there are wrong ones that we must avoid”.
“And it would be a historically wrong decision not to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova today, or give a clear perspective to Georgia,” the EU Parliament President said.
“We should be clear this is not simply some symbolic act; this will strengthen the EU and it will strengthen Ukraine and Moldova.
“It will show our people, as well as theirs, that our values matter more than rhetoric. That hope can mean results. And other countries waiting – those in the Western Balkans – also need to see hope lead to results. It is time.”
A historical day and historical decision! TheSummit confirmed what we had always known: is . We have gained the status of a candidate country for EU membership. We will join the family of civilized countries, where the highest value is freedom and democracy!
— Kira Rudik (@kiraincongress)
Meanwhile, at the European Parliament, MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution calling on the Council to give candidate status to Ukraine “without delay”.
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The resolution passed by 529 votes to 45 with 14 abstentions. Most Irish MEPs voted in favour, though Independents Clare Daly and Mick Wallace abstained.
It also calls for the Council to give candidate status to Moldova “without delay” and to Georgia “once its government has delivered” onoutlined by the European Commission.
Speaking to The Journal in the Parliament, Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune said that “the important message I want to hear from today’s Council meeting is that Europe is going to grant Ukraine candidate status”.
“I think it’s a really important message to send to Ukraine that we want Ukraine to be members of the European Union for all of the values that we stand for – democracy, freedom, human rights and many more,” Clune said.
“It’s also an important message to Russia to say that this is what Ukraine wants, the members of the European Union are standing up to you in this way.
“If this message is delivered today, I think it would be really important and significant for ourselves, for Ukraine, and to Russia.”
Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe said that there was “overwhelming support in the Parliament for Ukrainian membership of the European Union”.
“But it’s got to be remembered that European Union membership is a marathon, not a sprint, so it may take years before this comes to fruition,” he said.
“Some countries, such as Albania and North Macedonia, have been waiting for more than a decade and there’s a sense of frustration there.
“But I think with Putin’s murderous war in Ukraine, there will be a push to accelerate this and hopefully we will see Ukraine as a member of the European Union within the next decade.”