BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - The European Commission plans to recommend that Ukraine and Moldova be granted candidate status in a symbolic step forward in the lengthy process to become members of the European Union.
The EU's executive arm is set to issue its opinion on Friday (June 17) and will impose conditions that the countries will have to meet in the future on the rule of law, justice and anti-corruption, according to people familiar with the matter.
The commission is also expected to recommend granting candidate status to Georgia once it meets specific conditions.
The achievement would be significant for the three countries, particularly for Ukraine as it looks for moral support in fending off Russian aggression. But there were tensions over the bids at a preparatory meeting on Thursday night, according to one of the people, and Georgia in particular could have a tough road ahead.
The final decision to grant the status will have to be approved by all 27 member states. The membership procedure itself is a process that includes an arduous set of steps and conditions that can normally last more than a decade. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application process lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.
Germany's Olaf Scholz, France's Emmanuel Macron and Italy's Mario Draghi on Thursday gave Ukraine's prospects a significant boost when they heartily endorsed the membership bid on a visit to Kyiv, reversing earlier hesitation in Paris and Berlin to accelerate the process.
They were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in the highest-profile delegation to visit Ukraine since Russia attacked at the end of February.
"The biggest message we want to send in this trip is that Italy wants Ukraine in the EU," Mr Draghi said in Kyiv. "Italy, France and Germany are here to give unconditional support to Ukraine."
The bloc's leaders are set to discuss the matter in Brussels on June 23-24. Backing by member states is not a done deal as some governments, including Denmark and the Netherlands, have previously expressed reservations to granting the status. But with the bloc's biggest members now on board, it will be difficult for others to block the decision.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky formally applied to join the EU at the end of February and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered a membership questionnaire to the Ukrainian president when she visited Kyiv in April. She returned last weekend to Kyiv to discuss the membership recommendation and has scheduled a news conference for Friday.
"Candidate status for Ukraine can strengthen freedom in Europe and become one of key European decisions in the first third of 21st century," Mr Zelensky said on Thursday.
"We are ready to work so that our country transforms into full-fledged member of the European union. And Ukrainians already deserved the right to begin this path and get candidate status."