The European Union gave its blessing on Friday to Ukraine to become an official candidate to join the bloc, along with its neighbour Moldova, a historic eastward shift in Europe’s outlook brought about by Russia’s invasion. Ukraine applied to join the EU just four days after Russian troops poured across its border in February. Four days later, so did Moldova and Georgia – two other ex-Soviet states contending with separatist regions occupied by Russian troops. “Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and the country’s determination to live up to European values and standards,” the EU’s executive Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels. She made the announcement wearing Ukrainian colours, a yellow blazer over a blue shirt. Leaders of EU countries are expected to endorse the decision at a summit next week. The leaders of the three biggest – Germany, France and Italy – had signalled their solidarity on Thursday by visiting Kyiv, along with the president of Romania. “Ukraine belongs to the European family,” Germany’s Olaf Scholz said after meeting President Volodymyr Zelensky. Why Ukraine’s request to join is big test for EU The Commission recommended candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova, but held off for Georgia, which it said must meet more conditions first. Von der Leyen said Georgia has a strong application but had to come together politically. A senior diplomat close to the process cited setbacks in reforms there. Ukraine and Moldova will still face a lengthy process to achieve the standards required for membership, and there are other candidates in the waiting room. Nor is membership guaranteed – talks have been stalled for years with Türkiye, officially a candidate since 1999. But launching the candidacy process, a move that would have seemed unthinkable just months ago, amounts to a shift on par with the decision in the 1990s to welcome the ex-Communist countries of Eastern Europe. “Precisely because of the bravery of the Ukrainians, Europe can create a new history of freedom, and finally remove the grey zone in Eastern Europe between the EU and Russia,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address. “Ukraine has come close to the EU, closer than any time since independence,” he said, mentioning unspecified “good news” to come. If admitted, Ukraine would be the EU’s largest country by area and its fifth most populous. All three hopefuls are far poorer than any existing EU members, with per capita output around half that of the poorest, Bulgaria. All have recent histories of volatile politics, domestic unrest, entrenched organised crime, and unresolved conflicts with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming sovereignty over territory protected by Moscow’s troops.