Despite not meeting key criteria for European Union accession, Ukraine’s President Zelensky says country will join bloc by 2030

Ukraine joining the European Union is not a matter of if, but when, according to its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who predicted Kiev would be welcomed into the 27-member bloc before the end of the decade.

Speaking to a meeting of officials on Thursday, Zelensky said Ukraine has now become a “credible and responsible member of the international community,” making a significant contribution to global and regional security and stability.

According to a summary of conferences on the official presidential website, Ukrainian politicians have discussed how “membership in the European Union is no longer a hypothetical possibility – it is a matter of time, and must be decided before the end of the decade.” The officials have also discussed further integration into EU markets and how to achieve membership of NATO.

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Joining the EU is one of Zelensky’s key foreign policy aims, and he has been working on achieving accession ever since his election in 2019. Although Kiev and Brussels have a very close association agreement, there are still many obstacles to Ukraine’s ambition of becoming a full member, including the low level of economic development and the ongoing war in Donbass.

The EU has also repeatedly encouraged Kiev to solve its corruption problem, which Members of the European Parliament believe “continues to hamper Ukraine’s reform process.”

Last week, former Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said in a televised interview with the country’s Channel 5 that Ukraine won’t be able to join the bloc having made only “cosmetic reforms and imitation,” but needs instead to make real progress.

“If you look at the Copenhagen criteria [for being a member], it’s about permanent democracy, a sustainable rule of law, and a sustainable market economy. We have neither the first, nor the second, nor the third,” Klimkin said. “And I can’t even say that we are effectively moving towards at least one of the criteria.”

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In 2017, then-European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the country “not ‘European’ in the sense of the European Union,” knocking back suggestions from the then-Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko that “Ukraine is the European Union.”

As things stand, Turkey, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Albania are all recognized as candidate countries, while Ukraine is not. Earlier this month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmigal led a delegation to Brussels and met with EU bureaucrats.

In September, the EU’s Foreign Affairs High Representative Josep Borrell wrote a blog revealing that he had warned Zelensky not to treat the block like a “cash machine,” having already received €14 billion ($17 billion) since 2014. Borrell’s post came shortly after Brussels and Kiev signed a loan agreement for €1.2 billion ($1.45 billion).

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