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European Commission to support EU candidate status for Ukraine

The European Commission will recommend granting Ukraine official status as an EU candidate country, according to several officials familiar with the debate that took place among commissioners on Monday.

The debate in the College of Commissioners followed a surprise visit on Saturday by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Kyiv, where she discussed Ukraine’s membership bid with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It was Ms von der Leyen’s second trip to the Ukrainian capital since Russia’s invasion began on February 24.

Mr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have requested official recognition as an EU candidate country, stating that it would provide a much-needed wartime morale boost.

Reports coming out about the debate have highlighted a keen awareness of the sacrifices made by Ukrainians and recognition of the need to send a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he has lost any chance of reclaiming Ukraine into his sphere of influence.

Recognising Ukraine as a candidate country requires the unanimous approval of the 27 heads of state and government on the European Council, who are expected to address the matter at a summit meeting in Brussels next week. There are believed to be at least three countries still opposed.

Some leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have suggested that it would be more useful to grant Ukraine an interim status, strengthening its relations with the EU. Mr Macron has said that even if Ukraine is recognised as a candidate country, it would take more than a decade under existing accession procedures for the country to join the bloc.

In Kyiv, deputy head of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s office, Ihor Zhovkva, said officials were working hard to win over EU governments not yet convinced that Kyiv should gain candidate status at next week’s summit.

“We really deserve the next logical step, which is candidate status,” Zhovkva told POLITICO. “It’s far away from membership. It’s not even opening the accession negotiations. We deserve this, at least.”

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