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On Monday, the leaders of eight European Union countries in Central and Eastern Europe gave their support to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s plea to quickly facilitate his country’s membership in the EU.
“We, the Presidents of the EU member states: the Republic of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia, the Republic of Lithuania, the Republic of Poland, the Slovak Republic, and the Republic of Slovenia strongly believe that Ukraine deserves receiving an immediate EU accession perspective,” the leaders wrote in an open letter.
Zelensky asked for immediate EU membership as Russian troops encircle the cities in Ukraine, and much of Europe has rallied in support of Kyiv. Eastern European countries once under Soviet control have been particularly shaken by Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor.
Speaking at a briefing at the presidential palace in Kyiv, Zelensky appealed to the EU for “immediate accession of Ukraine via a new special procedure.” He added: “Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing. I’m sure it’s fair. I'm sure it’s possible."
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reiterated the president’s point on Twitter and said the country is “applying for EU membership under a special procedure” and the “time to put it down on paper has come.”
Typically, EU membership is an exhausting and time-consuming process that involves adopting the bloc’s laws and currency. Croatia was the last country to join, with its application formally accepted in 2013 — 10 years after it had applied for membership.
Some EU officials cast doubt on whether Ukraine’s request was practical.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews that Ukraine is “one of us and we want them in the European Union.” However, she gave no indication whether it would be the quick accession requested by Zelensky.
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said, “Membership is a long-standing request from Ukraine. But there are different opinions and sensitivities within the EU on enlargement. Ukraine will submit an official request, the European Commission will have to express an official opinion and the Council will decide."
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said he didn’t know whether Ukraine’s request could be put through immediately. But he said that regardless of how quickly the country's membership could be confirmed, he "certainly would be a proponent and supporter of accelerating it and making it very clear that they can become members of the European Union.” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday that “the EU has always been a house with open doors” and that “Ukraine is a part of the European house.” But Baerbock added that membership is not something “that can be completed in a few months, but involves an intensive and far-reaching process of transformation.”