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EU Parliament backs Ukraine, Moldova as leaders meet in Brussels

Olaf Scholz and Ursula von der Leyen are among those in attendance to discuss the next steps for Ukraine's and Moldova's EU membership efforts

Olaf Scholz and Ursula von der Leyen are among those in attendance to discuss the next steps for Ukraine's and Moldova's EU membership efforts

The European Parliament has voted in favor of granting Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status while leaders are meeting in Brussels to discuss the issue on Thursday.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said the vote had been "unequivocal" and that the European Council "should grant candidate status today" to the two countries. "This will show leadership, resolve and vision in context of Russia's war against Ukraine," she tweeted.

'Ukraine belongs in the European family'

EU leaders are also set to give their opinion on Thursday as they meet to discuss the possibility of backing the proposal, a first step in a long journey toward full membership that could take up to a decade to come to fruition.

The EU's 27 nations have been united in backing Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow.

EU leaders were initially divided on how quickly the bloc should accept Ukraine as a member, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark among the most skeptical.

But Ukraine's bid got a boost last week when the European Commission gave its endorsement based on Kyiv's answers to a questionnaire.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for such decisions to be made by majority, rather than requiring unanimity.

"We need to set the conditions that are necessary for Ukraine to continue its promising road ahead and at the same time we need to understand that we need to make ourselves ready for expansion," Scholz said before the meeting in Brussels.

"Today the EU is sending a message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine that you belong to the European family, that you belong to the EU... and you will get candidate status," Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said as he arrived at the summit.

Nevertheless, the head of the Ukrainian presidency, Andriy Yermak, said Kyiv was still "waiting for the green light" to receive EU candidate status, adding that the objective is to achieve "full membership."

Ukraine has been vocal about its determination to join the European Union ever since Russian troops invaded in late February, with fighting raging especially in the east of the country.

North Macedonia and Albania still in limbo

EU leaders debated Thursday a recommendation from the European Commission to grant Moldova, a country that borders Ukraine, candidate status.

Meanwhile, leaders failed to break a deadlock over a stalled membership bids from North Macedonia and Albania.

The two countries were given candidate status in 2005 and 2014 respectively, and Dimitar Kovacevski, North Macedonia's prime minister, responded to the lack of progress. "What has happened is a serious blow to the credibility (of) the European Union," Kovacevski told a news conference following the summit.

"For almost 20 years, the countries and the citizens of the Western Balkans have been waiting for the opportunity to become members of the European Union," Scholz said ahead of the summit in Brussels.

Scholz mentioned that North Macedonia had even changed its name to further its aspirations of joining the European Union.

jsi/kb (AP, AFP, dpa)