The EU will formally assess applications from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova to join the bloc, the French EU presidency said Monday.
EU ambassadors triggered the move, asking the European Commission, the blocâ€™s executive arm, to offer its thoughts on the requests, which have come in a flurry in recent days following Russiaâ€™s invasion of Ukraine. Each country has said that the rapidly changing security landscape must force the EU to swiftly consider the membership bids.
EU ambassadors discussed the three applications at a meeting on Monday afternoon before making their decision, according to several diplomats.
While the move is just a technical step, it still carries significant symbolic value. For years, the EU has been reluctant to move quickly on enlargement, slowed by existing members wary of expansion â€”Â including France and the Netherlands â€” as well as poor results in fighting corruption in newer members like Bulgaria or Romania.
According to one diplomat, EU ambassadors were in unison on two points during Mondayâ€™s meeting: One, that the EU should launch its formal assessment process; and two, that EU leaders should discuss the subject at a summit later this week.
â€œOn all the rest it would have been more problematic,â€ the diplomat added.
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are three of the six countries the EU classifies as neighbors under the so-called â€œEastern Partnershipâ€ initiative. For years, the EU has focused on pushing those countries to gradually adopt democratic and legal reforms that would bring them closer to the bloc.
But with a war now raging in Ukraine, â€œovernight, the EU has to change a neighborhood policy focused on incremental reform into one that is about the survival of these countries as states,â€ wrote Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow with the Carnegie Europe think tank.
For some diplomats, itâ€™s hard to imagine that Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova can suddenly deliver on reforms they have struggled to implement until now. Others saw it as odd to lump together three countries that only share some similarities. While each is likely far from achieving EU membership, Ukraine is now in a far different situation due to the Russian invasion.
Diplomats also stressed that while the process of joining the EU can take years, the EU is still providing Ukraine and others in the region with financial aid, humanitarian assistance and now, at least in the case of Kyiv, even weapons.
More immediately, several diplomats also said they expect the Commission to propose some sort of privileged partnership agreement for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova ahead of this weekâ€™s EU leadersâ€™ summit.