The leaders of all 27 European Union (EU) nations voiced support of Ukraine’s pursuit of EU membership but rejected to put it on the fast track.
“We will further strengthen our bonds and deepen our partnership to support Ukraine in pursuing its European path. Ukraine belongs to our European family,” the EU leaders said in a joint statement (pdf) on Friday after a summit at Versailles, France.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an application on Feb. 28 formally requesting that Ukraine join the European Union.
Zelensky urged the EU to allow the former Soviet republic to immediately join the bloc, saying that membership would put Ukrainians on “an equal footing” with other members.
“We appeal to the European Union to urgently admit Ukraine using a new procedure,” he said in a video message posted earlier on Feb. 28. “We are grateful to partners for standing with us. But our goal is to be with all Europeans and to be equal to them. I am sure we deserve it. I am sure it is possible.”
EU countries must agree unanimously to let in a new member, and accession usually takes years of complex negotiations as well as requires candidates to meet strict criteria, from economic stability to rooting out corruption and respecting human rights.
The leaders didn’t give a clear timeline on handling Ukraine’s application in the Versailles Declaration.
However, heads of several countries said after the meeting that Ukraine’s application will not be put on the fast track.
“Can we open a membership procedure with a country at war? I don’t think so. Can we shut the door and say: ‘never’? It would be unfair. Can we forget about the balance points in that region? Let’s be cautious,” French President Emmanuel Macron said during the summit.
Croatia Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also said that “nobody entered the European Union overnight.”
Allies of Ukraine in eastern Europe were disappointed.
“I wish Ukraine would get the candidate status now … it was not possible today, but we will come back to this issue,” said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.
Reuters and Jack Phillips contributed to the report.