The bloc's top diplomat evaded a question about whether Kiev and Brussels will enter accession talks in 2023
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell has hailed the European Commission's support for granting Ukraine candidate status but declined to say if he expected accession talks to start next year.
Upon arriving in Luxembourg for the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, Borrell gave journalists a rundown of some of the key issues facing European diplomacy, with Ukraine very high on the agenda. The official said, among other things, that the fact the European Commission has spoken positively about letting Ukraine become a candidate nation was a "very important step and clear proof that the European Union is ready to support and accept the neighbors who want to join us as like-minded countries, partners and members."
However, when asked by a reporter if he expected "accession talks opening for Ukraine and Moldova next year," Borrell refused to give a clear timeline.
"I do not know. Step by step. I know that you always want to know about the next event but let us take care of today's event. Thank you," the diplomat said.
When another journalist asked him about any possible opposition among EU member states to granting Ukraine candidate status, Borrell replied by saying that he had "not heard anyone opposing." He added, though, that he "cannot anticipate the results" of the European Council meeting.
The unanimous support of all member states is required to get Kiev started on the accession track. While the European Commission last Friday officially recommended that the Council accommodate Ukraine's request for candidate status, not all EU nations had been of the same opinion just a week prior, according to media reports.
Bloomberg, for instance, citing unnamed officials, claimed that the Netherlands and Denmark did not support the idea.
Copenhagen reportedly argued Ukraine did not sufficiently fulfil criteria related to the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities. According to the US media outlet, Denmark believed the aspiring nation was "generally at a very early stage" and would have to "fundamentally improve its legislative and institutional framework" before it could become a candidate nation.
However, on Friday, after the European Commission made its official opinion known, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tweeted that "Denmark [was] ready to support Ukraine EU candidacy status."
Also on Friday, Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said that the Netherlands was prepared to support granting Ukraine candidate status "for the sake of unity in Europe." The official added that Amsterdam was "positive about this."
French President Emmanuel Macron in early May suggested creating a "European political community" that would include such EU hopefuls as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which would be given certain perks. Macron argued that while Brussels should keep these nations in its orbit, they were all most likely years if not decades away from becoming member states, even if given "candidate status tomorrow."
Top Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have criticized the idea, insisting that Kiev will not settle for any substitute for EU candidate nation status.
Last week, Macron, together with top officials from Germany, France, Italy and Romania, visited Kiev. He said that they were all in favor of granting Ukraine immediate EU-candidate status.