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Ukraine’s EU-candidate status is ‘symbolic’ – Belgium

Granting Ukraine EU-candidate status is an important “symbolic message” to support Kiev amid the ongoing conflict with Russia, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday. Actual admission of the country into the bloc, however, will take “many years” and a “lot of reforms,” he warned.

Ukraine is expected to be accorded candidate status during the ongoing European Council summit. The EU Parliament overwhelmingly supported the move on Thursday, while last week the EU Commission recommended the granting of such status to Kiev.

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Speaking ahead of a bloc summit, De Croo reiterated Belgium’s support for Kiev’s EU membership aspirations.

“Ukrainians are fighting for our values, for our values of democracy, security and peace. Giving a signal to the Ukrainian population with the candidate status is a very important symbolic message,” De Croo said.

Still, the process of actual accession into the bloc will be a bumpy road as the country has to tackle a wide range of issues to meet EU standards, the premier pointed out.

“This does not mean that Ukraine will soon be part of the European Union. It is a process of many years with a lot of reforms which will be very difficult and for us it is very important to give a strong symbolic signal,” De Croo explained.

Joining the EU has been a prime talking point for pro-Western Ukrainian politicians for decades already, yet the bloc’s member states have not yet signaled that Kiev was ready to become a candidate. Ukraine’s drive to join the bloc became reinvigorated amid the ongoing conflict with Russia, which broke out in late February.

Russia attacked Ukraine following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.

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