EU unity must not be compromised for Ukraine candidate status, French official says

Ukrainian President Zelenskiy speaks during a special meeting of the European Council at The European Council Building in Brussels
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a special meeting of the European Council at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium May 30, 2022. Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
  • European Commission to issue advice on candidate status June 17
  • Divisions among European states
  • Ukraine wants legal commitment, not political promise

PARIS, June 10 (Reuters) - A decision to give Ukraine candidate status to the European Union has to be done without weakening the bloc and to ensure Kyiv is not left in limbo for years, a French presidential official said on Friday.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, will give its opinion on Ukraine's candidacy request on June 17, with the bloc's heads of state expected to discuss it at a summit a week later. Even if approved, the process to become a full member takes several years and can be vetoed by any member state.

However, there are divisions within the 27-member bloc on giving the candidacy status. Some eastern member states want a firm promise now to send a strong signal to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, while others, including the Netherlands and Denmark, are less receptive. The bloc's two power houses, France and Germany, have also expressed reservations.

"We know that there are different sensitivities on the subject within the European Union," the French presidential source told reporters.

"We will pay attention to the unity of the European Council. We believe also that the European Union must come out of this crisis in Ukraine stronger and must not come out weakened."

Three European diplomats said the most likely scenario was that the Commission, which will also give recommendations for Moldova and Georgia, would give its green light, possibly with conditions.

The heads of state would then in all likelihood find a "formula" that would stop short of giving Ukraine candidacy status for now, the diplomats said.

"The philosophy has changed now. Nobody clearly says no, but those states that are lukewarm want to postpone as much as possible," a European diplomat said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told a conference in Denmark on Friday that grand statements that Ukraine was part of the European family should be followed up with actions.

"Our position is clear: Ukraine needs a legal commitment and not a political promise. Hesitations cost too much for my country," Olga Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, said on Twitter following a meeting with the Commission on Thursday.

French President Emmanuel Macron last month suggested creating a "European political community" that would create a new structure, allowing closer cooperation with countries seeking EU membership. That initiative has irked Ukraine and some eastern and Baltic states, who see it as an attempt to kick membership down the road.

"The response to Ukraine's needs is not in a status, it is in policies and in the demonstration of our solidarity," the French official said. "The worst (thing to do) would be basically if we gave a status to Ukraine and that 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years (later) and if I take the case of Turkey, almost 60 years later, we find that in fact, nothing has happened."

Reporting by John Irish, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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