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Ukraine, Moldova in EU Member Talks    06/25 06:12


   BRUSSELS (AP) -- Ukraine is set to officially launch membership talks with 
the European Union on Tuesday in what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has 
described as a dream come true for his country's citizens more than two years 
into a war with Russia.

   Deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Olga 
Stefanishyna will lead Ukraine's delegation at an intergovernmental conference 
in Luxembourg marking the official opening of talks to align the country's laws 
and standards with those of the 27-nation bloc.

   A few hours later, Moldova, which applied to join the EU after Russia's 
invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and was granted candidate status four 
months later, will take part in a separate intergovernmental conference to 
officially launch its own accession process.

   Ukraine, too, sought candidate status in the days after Russia invaded. By 
June 2022, EU leaders had quickly made it official. But things have moved more 
slowly since then and membership, if it comes, might be years away.

   Turkey's accession talks have lasted almost two decades without result.

   Still, starting the talks process is sending another strong signal of 
solidarity with Ukraine beyond the billions in financial support the EU has 
provided. It's also a show of support for Moldova, which has faced its own 
challenges with Russia.

   "Generations of our people are realizing their European dream. Ukraine is 
returning to Europe," Zelenskyy said in an online post after EU member states 
agreed on Friday to open the talks.

   Tuesday's intergovernmental conference marks the launch of talks but the 
negotiations themselves are unlikely to begin for a few months.

   Candidate countries must bring their laws and standards into line with those 
of the EU in 35 policy areas, known as chapters, ranging from the free movement 
of goods through fisheries, taxation, energy and the environment to judicial 
rights and security.

   Unanimous agreement must be given by all 27 member countries to open or 
close chapters, providing ample opportunity for EU nations to demand more work 
or to delay proceedings.

   Hungary, which takes over the EU's rotating presidency from Belgium in July, 
has routinely put the brakes on EU and NATO support for Ukraine.

   "We are still at the beginning of the screening process. It's very difficult 
to say at what stage Ukraine is in. From what I see here, as we speak, they are 
very far from meeting the accession criteria," Hungarian Minister for European 
Affairs Janos Boka said as he arrived at the venue.

   Bordering EU members Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, Ukraine would 
overtake France to become the largest member of the bloc if it joined, shifting 
its center of gravity further eastward. As a top grain producer its entry would 
have a huge impact on EU agriculture policy.

   Together with Moldova, Ukraine stands in a long line of EU hopefuls -- 
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia 
and Turkey -- with yearslong membership aspirations and which have felt left 
behind by Kyiv's rapid progress.

   Spanish State Secretary for European Affairs Fernando Sampedro Marcos 
praised both countries for their preparatory work, saying they have made "a 
tremendous effort in very difficult circumstances in the last months."

   "Of course, this requires reforms and it's a merit-based process," he noted, 
and paid tribute to the countries of the Western Balkans which also want to 
join. "We will not leave them behind."

   Ukraine wants to join by 2030, but it must carry out dozens of institutional 
and legal reforms first. That daunting list is led by steps to combat 
corruption and includes broad reforms to public administration and judiciary.

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