European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gestures as she speaks during a news conference, with European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi, after a meeting of the College of European Commissioners addressing its opinion on Ukraine's EU candidate status, in Brussels, Belgium June 17, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

The European Commission recommended that Ukraine be granted candidate status in a symbolic step on the long path to become members of the European Union, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The EU’s executive arm approved it Friday with conditions that Kyiv will have to meet in the future on the rule of law, justice and anti-corruption, the people said.

The recommendation is significant for Ukraine, which has invested so much of its political future on a closer relationship with Europe as it seeks moral support in countering Russian aggression.

But there’s no existing fast-track path to speed up the arduous membership process, which 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. The final decision to grant the status will have to be approved by all 27 member states.

Germany’s Olaf Scholz, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Mario Draghi on Thursday boosted Ukraine’s prospects when they warmly 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 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 Zelenskiy formally applied to join the EU at the end of February and European 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.

Ukraine featured 122nd among 180 countries in last year’s ranking by the watchdog Transparency International. Ukrainians took to the streets twice, in 2004 and in 2014, to try to force the government to root out corruption. Support among Ukrainians to join the EU jumped to 91% in a March survey by Rating Group, up from 61% in December.