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The leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania on Thursday threw their weight behind accepting Ukraine and Moldova as EU membership candidates, laying to rest doubts over their stance amid Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for membership,” French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a joint news conference in Kyiv, where the leaders had traveled to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He was speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Scholz delivered a similar conclusion: “Germany is in favor of a positive decision in favor of Ukraine. This also applies to the Republic of Moldova,” the chancellor said. “Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he added.
Scholz’s statement was particularly notable since the chancellor had been more reluctant to endorse a trajectory toward membership for Ukraine or Moldova in previous comments.
It was clear, however, that some conditions would be attached to candidacy for membership.
Scholz stressed that EU enlargement “is subject to clear criteria that must be met by all candidates,” naming “especially democracy and the rule of law.” But he said that while membership candidates must reform themselves, there was an equal need for modernization on the EU’s side. “The EU needs to prepare itself and modernize its structures and procedures,” he said, alluding to issues such as the requirement for unanimity on important decisions such as foreign policy, which has hampered the bloc’s ability to act and decide swiftly.
The EU will likely request strict requirements on democratic and institutional reforms, such as the fight against corruption, as part of the EU enlargement process. Ukraine will also probably have to first reach a peace agreement with Russia before any talks with the EU could begin.
The European Commission is expected to officially recommend granting Ukraine and Moldova the membership candidacy on Friday, but it is up to EU countries to make a final decision. EU leaders will meet in Brussels next week on Thursday and Friday to discuss the issue.
Earlier in the day, the European leaders had visited Irpin, the suburb northwest of Kyiv where Russian invaders destroyed buildings and allegedly tortured and killed civilians during weeks of occupation before Ukrainian forces pushed them out.
They discussed the reconstruction of the town with Oleksiy Chernyshov, the Ukrainian minister for territorial development. Stopping in front of a building covered in graffiti which read “Make Europe not war,” Macron said: “It’s very moving to see that.” “We will rebuild everything,” Draghi added, speaking to the press during the visit.
In Irpin, Macron also said that: “It’s both a heroic town because it is here that, amongst other places, the Ukrainians stopped the Russian army that was descending on Kyiv, so you have to imagine the heroism of the army but also of the Ukrainian people.”
Scholz added that Irpin is an example of “the brutality of the Russian war of aggression, which is simply out to destroy and conquer” and of an ongoing invasion being continued “without regard for human life.”
A French diplomatic official told reporters that once Russia’s war is over, “a dialogue” between Moscow and Kyiv “will be needed to find out how we build a sustainable peace,” with security guarantees for Ukraine, and the nature of the relationship between Ukraine and NATO.
This article was updated.
Chris Miller reported from Kyiv.