The European Union Commission said on Friday that Ukraine should be considered a candidate state. It is now up to the 27 EU member states to decide whether or not they agree with the Commission's opinion.
Here are key things to know about Ukraine's bid to join the EU:
What is the process for becoming a part of the EU? On paper, the process is relatively straightforward. A country applies and the Commission gives a verdict on whether or not it should be considered for candidacy. As is likely to be the case with Ukraine, the Commission will probably present a few ways for member states to go about accepting a new candidate.
As European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made clear on Friday, Ukraine will still have to meet a series of criteria before proper accession negotiations can begin, even if the EU 27 agree to accept its candidate status next week.
The Copenhagen Criteria is a fairly opaque trio of requirements that the EU must be satisfied a candidate state has met in order to enter the proper accession negotiations. They focus on whether or not that country has a functioning free-market economy, if the country's institutions are fit to uphold European values such as human rights and the EU's interpretation of the rule of law and whether the country has a functioning, inclusive democracy.
Once the country has deemed to have met this criteria, they can begin the EU's 35 chapters of negotiation, the final three of which return to some areas of the Copenhagen Criteria.
Then, when the leaders of the EU member states have agreed, it must then be ratified in the EU Parliament and by the legislative branches of each member state's government.
How do EU countries feel about Ukraine joining the EU? This is where it starts to get complicated. While the EU and its 27 members have broadly supported Ukraine in its war effort, having a country that's currently at war start the accession process raises all sorts of issues.
There are a number of candidate states that have been in the accession process for years, and have in some cases had their accession slowed down because of domestic political instability. One example of this is the case of Turkey, whose application has been essentially frozen following fears over a backslide over the rule of law and human rights. Starting the process with a country currently at war will raise questions from other candidate states who have had their applications similarly frozen.
There are also real concerns that Ukraine is a long way from meeting the Copenhagen Criteria any time soon. According to Transparency International's 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine is 122nd on its list of 180 countries. For comparison, Russia sits in 136th place. Given that parts of Ukraine are currently occupied by Russia and could be long after the war is over, it is hard to predict if this improves or worsens in the coming years. Some EU officials have also expressed fears that after the war, it is hard to tell what human rights will look like inside Ukraine.
How long would it take? It really depends on what state Ukraine is in when war ends. It seems highly unlikely that Ukraine will be anywhere near meeting the criteria to even start negotiations for a significant period of time after the end of the war. Aside from the rebuilding project, Ukraine will have to make the transition from a country operating under various degrees of martial law and curfews to a functioning democracy.
The average time for a country to join the EU is four years and 10 months, according to the London think tank, UK in a Changing Europe. Member states that might be considered a sort of blueprint for Ukraine's membership — Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovenia -- were all over the average wait time.
What would joining the EU mean for Ukraine? Ukraine would be a member of the world's largest trading bloc, the EU's single market and customs union, and would have the protection of EU courts and access to the EU budget.
Joining the EU would also place Ukraine very clearly in the club of countries that are considered to be part of the Western alliance and US-led world order.
Read more about Ukraine's bid here and see a map below of the current EU members countries: