But E.U. membership would require meeting the bloc’s standards for overhauling the economy, reining in corruption and public debt, ensuring competitive and fair elections, and safeguarding the independence of the courts and the media, as well as changing laws and regulations to comply with 80,000 pages of rules on matters ranging from environmental protection to food hygiene.
Several countries that have been candidates for years, including Turkey, are far ahead of Ukraine in the process, but are still not considered close to approval. And as Charles Michel, president of the European Council, the group of E.U. heads of government, noted on Friday, admitting another nation to the club would require the unanimous approval of the 27 that are already members.
Ukraine’s corruption problem, in particular, was a concern long before the war. This week, the government conducted a series of anti-corruption raids, some targeting powerful figures allied with Mr. Zelensky, signaling to Brussels that it takes the issue seriously.
Debate this week among diplomats over support for Ukraine came down to one word in the statement they issued after the meeting: “progress.”
While some E.U. nations wanted to recognize Ukraine’s “progress” toward meeting the bloc’s standards, others refused to go that far and insisted that the word be changed to “efforts,” according to four officials who participated in the meetings and spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to share details of the confidential discussions.
It ultimately took two meetings to settle the matter, but the more cautious language carried the day.
The statement cited “the considerable efforts that Ukraine demonstrated in the recent months towards meeting the objectives underpinning its candidate status for E.U. membership, welcomed Ukraine’s reform efforts in such difficult times, and encouraged the country to continue on this path.”
Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora, Richard Pérez-Peña, Andrew E. Kramer, Dan Bilefsky, Shashank Bengali and Monika Pronczuk.